Sydney residents told to cut power use to help avoid blackouts

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Sydney residents were urged on Thursday to conserve power in the evening as much as possible to avert blackouts, one day after Australia suspended its spot electricity market due to unscheduled outages at ageing coal-fired utilities.

The Australian Energy Market Operator said it was still too early to say when the market would resume normal operations but added that power capacity reserves had improved in New South Wales.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen told households in the state to save power without sacrificing essentials such as heating.

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“We are confident we can avoid blackouts,” he said at a televised media conference in Canberra. “If you have a choice about when to run certain items, don’t run them from 6 to 8 (p.m.).”

Power crunches are more likely to occur in the evenings when output from solar and wind farms falls and people head home from work and switch on their appliances.

The suspension of the spot electricity market is unprecedented for Australia and marks the latest drastic step to tackle an energy crisis that began in May. Currently more than a quarter of the country’s coal-fired capacity has been knocked out.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said energy will be on the agenda at a dinner with state leaders on Thursday and a meeting Friday - their first formal gatherings since the new Labor government was elected in May.

A slew of coal-fired units have gone offline due to scheduled maintenance and unexpected faults, and all efforts are focused on restoring units to normal operations, Bowen said.

Australia’s top power producer AGL Energy said on Thursday that one of three crippled units at its Bayswater coal-fired plant in New South Wales would be back online on Thursday and another by Saturday.

EnergyAustralia, owned by CLP Holdings, which lost output from two units at its Yallourn coal-fired plant in Victoria this week, said it had brought one unit back online on Thursday and the other would return to service late next week.

“Right now, we are exploring all options to continue to increase our fuel and generation supply into the electricity market,” Managing Director Mark Collette said in a statement.

The company’s gas-fired plants have helped bolster power supply, he said, noting its Tallawarra plant in New South Wales had been working at close to 75 percent of its capacity since the beginning of May compared to its typical run rate of around 20 percent.

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