Spotlight On: Liz Westcott, EnergyAustralia Executive – Energy

Tallawarra Power Station

EnergyAustralia has confirmed its commitment to building the energy system of the 21st century, despite the recent global challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. EnergyAustralia’s Executive – Energy Liz Westcott fills us in.

Liz Westcott

Despite current challenges, Liz Westcott said EnergyAustralia’s momentum to build a modern energy system is not slowing.

Liz said that in the broad response to COVID-19, EnergyAustralia has made some changes that prioritise the health and safety of people, the continued operation of power stations, and the services provided to customers.

“We are immensely proud of how our employees have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, doing all the right things to keep their co-workers and the community safe,” Liz said.

“I am especially proud of our people’s ability to solve the most challenging problems in an effort to continue to supply reliable and affordable power to homes and businesses across the national electricity market.”

While the current state of affairs has given many of us additional time for hobbies (for Liz, this would mean spending time with family, exercising and her two passions – cooking and reading), but her role at EnergyAustralia means she’s been keeping very busy indeed.

Liz’s role means that she’s responsible for the operation and development of the company’s generation portfolio, comprising around 5000MW of owned and contracted wind, solar, coal and gas power. 

She’s also an active non-executive director in the not-for-profit sector, and currently a board member with Beyond Bank Australia, a not for profit bank.

“Energy is essential to the wellbeing and independence of millions of Australians, but the country’s energy assets and infrastructure were designed for the last century – not today or tomorrow,” Liz said.

“Our opportunity is to build a bridge to the 21st century, to remake the system so it provides not only reliable, affordable and cleaner power, but choice and control for people as well.

“One day the last coal-fired plant will close, and homes and businesses will be powered by wind and solar power, supported by firming and energy efficiency technologies like gas, pumped hydro, demand response and commercial-scale batteries.

“With each passing year that future takes sharper focus. Our drive to make this a reality remains intact because we know there are communities and customers depending on us.”  

Liz’s comments come off the back of a series of recent announcements that were also managed under the current COVID-19 restrictions, with some 80 per cent of the EnergyAustralia workforce continuing to do their roles from home. 

In April 2020, the proposed expansion of the company’s Tallawarra power station in New South Wales passed a significant regulatory milestone, keeping the project on track to boost the state’s power supplies in time for the summer of 2022-23.

Tallawarra power station is located near Shellharbour Airport and during the early consultation phase of the project, concerns were raised by the airport users that the plume from the proposed open cycle gas turbine could cause potential impacts on aviation activities.

EnergyAustralia Tallawarra B project director Julian Turecek said, “We worked with Shellharbour Council, local airport users and other stakeholders to significantly redesign our proposal to lower the plume height”.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) have now determined that aviation risks have been managed to an acceptable level.

Estimated to deliver a $300 million boost to the local economy and create hundreds of jobs during peak construction, once developed the 300-megawatt open cycle gas turbine facility could start within 25 minutes and power around 60,000 New South Wales homes.

According to Liz, the Tallawarra expansion would reduce the electricity supply shortfall when the Liddell power station retires.

“Responding quickly to fluctuations in demand would provide secure and affordable supply for households and businesses across the state, and nationally,” she said.   

The focus is now on the shortlisting phase of securing an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract and finalising the business case, with the aim of making a final investment decision later this year.

The Tallawarra expansion follows the announcement a week earlier that EnergyAustralia had agreed to underpin development of the 250-megawatt Kidston pumped-hydro storage facility, located in Queensland.

“Kidston pumped hydro is a project we are very proud to be a part of and is an example of the innovation needed to secure Australia’s energy future,” Liz said.

“It’s potentially a great way of helping integrate intermittent renewable energy supply into the power grid of the future in a way that delivers reliable, affordable power.”

Meanwhile, Liz says the company is working hard to ensure reliability of the existing generation fleet while also investing in its existing generation assets to add capacity to the electricity system. 

In 2019 EnergyAustralia announced plans to invest $80 million in operational upgrades at the Mt Piper power station in New South Wales to expand capacity by 60 megawatts without having to burn more coal, while in April a new fast-start gas generator at Hallett power station in South Australia became commercially operational, adding another 30 megawatts.

“The challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 situation are unlike anything we have seen or experienced before, however maintaining our assets remains a priority,” Liz said.

“Last year we invested around $180 million so our power plants can continue to generate power for customers across the country.”

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