Power & Water Corporation managing director, Andrew Macrides battles extreme weather conditions as he oversees significant investment in the Northern Territory’s capital maintenance program and generation infrastructure.
Each day holds moments of frustration and elation for the employees of Power & Water Corporation, a multi-utility responsible for essential services covering more than 1.3 million square kilometres – nearly one-sixth of Australia’s land mass.
The Northern Territory is a vast expanse of land populated by isolated communities affected by extreme environmental conditions. Cyclone Carlos cut supply to 8000 customers in February, with much of the damage caused by trees and branches falling on above-ground powerlines. A record wet season saw major flooding at the top end and central Australia, requiring the utility’s remote operations team to respond swiftly. For those living where the desert meets the tropics, danger is never far away.
With the ‘big wet’ approaching in October, Power & Water Corporation managing director, Andrew Macrides has commenced the transitional period in preparation for the next round of extreme weather. Leading five semi-autonomous businesses covering power networks, water and sewage, remote operations, generation and retail, the 51-year-old managing director is focused on the continued growth of the territory.
Born and raised in Darwin, Mr Macrides has the distinction of being the first native Territorian to lead the corporation.
“I’m passionate about the territory and I’m passionate about seeing it grow and develop. Power & Water is very much a key economic driver up here of that growth and development. I want to see this organisation do right by the people of the Northern Territory by succeeding. That’s what it’s all about – delivering these services to the community,” Mr Macrides told Energy Source & Distribution.
Beginning his career as an accountant, Mr Macrides joined Power & Water Corporation in 1998 after working across a range of sectors in the Northern Territory government, including health, housing, community services and tourism. Following corporatisation in 2002, he was appointed business services general manager and chief financial officer before moving to his current role in 2007.
With wild weather lashing the territory’s close-knit communities, Mr Macrides said life up north has the feel of a “very small frontier town”. Walking the streets of Darwin on any given day, he may be “brought back to earth” by the feedback he receives from the people he meets.
“Because of your interaction and the fact that you are part of this town and have grown up in this town, people often stop and talk to you. They give you the good, the bad and the ugly, you know, what they think of your service delivery,” he said.
While preparing emergency services for tropical storms and cyclones is a priority, it is not Mr Macrides’ sole focus. Electricity demand peaks in the build-up to wet season, with daily demand of up to 285 MW. The utility’s capital infrastructure has grown from $50 million to $400 million over the past four years, taking it to a “vastly different” place to where it used to be, transforming the company’s culture and drive.
“That’s largely been driven by constantly talking to stakeholders about the importance of investing in this business. The organisation has gone from 600 staff to a thousand staff to meet that challenge in that increase in that capital maintenance program,” Mr Macrides explained.
“The big thing about this place that’s changed is the dynamic and belief that we can succeed as a business.”
The new generation investment is part of a larger plan to meet market demand growth as well as to provide enough capacity to allow power units to be taken out of service. Increasing generation capacity at Owen Springs and Channel Island power stations along with Weddell power station are part of Power & Water Corporation’s territory-wide generation investment strategy.
Channel Island, Power & Water Corporation’s largest power station, has seven gas-fired units, most with dual fuel capability, and provides approximately 226 MW of generation capacity. Currently under commission are two new 45/55 MW Rolls Royce-built turbines. Both units were delivered in mid-2011 with installation commencing in August. The two new units are anticipated to increase the capacity of the Darwin-Katherine power system by nearly 25 per cent. As electricity demand is currently increasing at about 3 to 4 per cent each year, Power and Water is planning to bring these two turbines on line by mid-2012.
In 2008 Power and Water Corporation, Man Diesel and their contractors transformed Owen Spring’s greenfield site, 25 km south of Alice Springs, into a 33 MW power station with new fuel, wastewater and water systems in conjunction with other necessary supporting infrastructure.
“So all of that’s part of generation strategic plan. So two fold- keep up with and exceed the demand that’s happening so that we get ahead of the game. And also give us a bit of spare capacity so that we can take units off the units to do major services on them,” Mr Macrides said.
While many distributors and transmitters are trialling and implemented smart-grid technologies, Power & Water Corporation is focused on improving efficiencies through the delivery of its generation program. Smart grids may play a greater role as part of the Northern Territory Government ‘growth town’ drive, which has highlighted 20 centres of growth that will become “hub and spoke” service-delivery areas to outlying smaller communities.
“I think smart-grid technology will certainly be a feature of what we look at in terms of infrastructure development in these growth towns as territory government starts to role this policy out,” Mr Macrides said.
Power & Water Corporation also has many solar programs underway, including Australia’s largest solar-tracking power station, the one megawatt Uterne. The company has integrated solar systems into the electricity grid in six of the remote communities it manages and has three more solar power stations under construction. Solar will play an important role in meeting the 20 per cent renewable target, although Mr Macrides believes the utility is already using a cleaner form of energy then anywhere else in Australia.
“All our generation plant is gas-fired. For us, the significant benefit comes when we augment our generation by putting in new generation plant that is significantly more efficient than anything else we currently have in our fleet,“ he said.
“So, for example, these new units that are going into Channel Island, they are going to be 20-27 per cent more efficient then anything we’ve got already in our fleet. So, in effect, that is also part of our innovation strategy.”
In the future, Mr Macrides would like to see his utility continued to be respected by the Northern Territory community and major stakeholders as a leader in utility services and for its business operations.
“That’s there now, there’s no doubt about that, but I just think we have a way to go with our capital program and our maintenance program to try and do much more to insulate against outages and to get ahead of the game in terms of water and sewage delivery,” he said.
“I just think that the uniqueness of this place being a multi-utility is quite fascinating. And then you overlay that with the services to 76 indigenous communities. Every day is interesting; every day you have moments of frustration and moments of elation. It’s a great place to work.”
Northern Territory infrastructure investment
Construction on a solar power station has started in Ti Tree with Kalkarindgi and Alpurrurulam (Lake Nash) to follow. A wind energy system will also be installed at Alpurrurulam.
Over the three communities, a total of one million watts of solar panels are being installed.
A reduction in the volume of diesel required is another benefit of the project, as supplying diesel to remote communities is expensive and often difficult during the wet season. The three facilities will also deliver substantial savings of around 1200 tonnes of CO2-e emissions.
Power & Water currently has a project in place with Alice Solar City, of which it is a consortium member, where smart-energy meters are also in operation. To date, 600 smart-energy meters have been installed.
Drinking water supplies in the Northern Territory range from surface water sources in the tropics to groundwater sources in central Australia that are up to 10,000 years old.
A major project completed in 2010-11 increased the capacity of Darwin’s primary drinking water source. The capacity of Darwin River Dam, located 73 km south of Darwin was increased by about 20 per cent.
About $20 million was allocated last financial year to increase capacity and treatment at Ludmilla wastewater treatment plant – the largest of its kind in the territory. This work is all part of the closure of the 1970s Larrakeyah outfall in to Darwin Harbour.
Power & Water Corporation is also looking for the desert town of Alice Springs to soon lead the way in water conservation. Alice residents are being urged to cut water use through a $15 million plan that aims to drive smarter, more efficient use of water in homes, businesses, parks and gardens.
The Alice Water Plan project involves education, audits and infrastructure development to cut water use by 1600 million litres per year.
Connecting the landscape
Power & Water Corporation is upgrading a number of its substations and powerlines in regional areas.
Sixty-six kilovolt powerlines have been built to transport electricity from Owen Springs to Alice Springs. To preserve the natural beauty of the town a section of eight kilometres of these powerlines have been undergrounded. An additional underground 11 kV high-voltage cable to the Alice Springs CBD will further enhance security of supply.
A new 11/66 kV switchyard is being finalised at Owen Springs, which will link the new power station to the Lovegrove substation in Alice Springs. Lovegrove substation was established in the mid 1980s as a 22/11 kV substation with power supplied from the Ron Goodin power station at 22 kV and stepped down to 11 kV distribution voltage for reticulation to the CBD and suburbs on the western side of town.
Extension works at Lovegrove substation will allow electricity from the new Owen Springs power station to be delivered at 66 kV and stepped down to 22 kV for bulk transfer to Sadadeen substation on the eastern side of town and 11 kV for distribution. This involves the installation of an outdoor 66 kV switchyard, outdoor 66 kV/22 kV transformers and new 22 kV indoor switchgear.
The newly constructed Archer zone substation, located near Palmerston on the outskirts of Darwin, will feed the electricity out from the Weddell power station. Palmerston is the second largest city in the territory and this zone substation will support the forecast growth in electrical load from the city’s CBD and new suburbs to be built over the next five years.
A new 66,000 V transmission line connecting the Archer zone substation to the nearby Hudson Creek substation will support the increasing demand for electricity for the Top End of the Northern Territory, in Palmerston and East Arm Port areas as well as providing a secure supply route from the new Weddell power station to the greater Darwin region.