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Australia, top energy producer, prepares for blackouts

Australians were warned to expect power cuts on the densely populated east coast on Tuesday as an energy crisis hits one of the world’s biggest coal and gas producers.

Australia’s energy market operator has warned there could be major power shortages in the states of Queensland and New South Wales, which are home to more than 13 million people.

It has also issued advisories for a forecast of reserve shortfalls in the states of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

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Newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese blamed the energy crisis on the previous government, which had been in power for nearly a decade.

“The consequences of the previous government’s failure to put in place an energy policy are being felt right now,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

Albanese said “everything is on the table” as his government considers how to ease the crisis, which dominated his centre-left government’s first weeks in office.

Australia’s energy market operator spent much of Tuesday negotiating with producers, but a price cap of AUD$300/MWh ($208) left many reluctant to inject more energy in the system.

He was also exploring the possibility of forcing businesses to produce more electricity, a lever he pulled on Monday to avoid blackouts in Queensland.

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Australia is one of the world’s top three producers of gas and coal, but around a quarter of coal-fired power plants on the east coast are currently offline due to breakdowns and maintenance.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also led to a surge in Australian gas export demand, mopping up any potential surplus that could ease the domestic deficit.

Supply issues have been exacerbated by a cold spell on the east coast, prompting electricity providers to ask households to conserve energy use.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen said on Tuesday he was confident there was enough supply in the system to avoid load shedding and blackouts, as long as there was no other failures.

But he told Australians to “expect a bumpy winter” with low temperatures, coal-fired power plant outages, geopolitical pressures and record flooding on the east coast combining to create the crisis.

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Fossil fuels provided around 71% of Australia’s electricity last year, and coal alone 51%, according to government figures.

Energy expert Richie Merzian of the Australia Institute said the balance must shift to avoid this kind of crisis.

“As long as Australia remains dependent on gas and coal, Australian consumers will be above a barrel of global fuel prices influenced by events beyond our control,” he said.

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Post expires at 1:43pm on Friday June 24th, 2022