Methane deposit in Casino

Metgasco may have found the biggest deposit of methane gas in NSW in over a century. The company announced last week that their Kingfisher site, southeast of Casino, would yield the first commercial quantity of gas in the Northern Rivers region.

Managing director of Metgasco David Johnson said the initial estimates are that the Kingfisher site could produce 37 BCF (billion cubic feet), or 37 petajoules. That amount of gas could supply about 40% of Brisbane’s gas needs for a year or enough electricity to power 10,000 households.

Metgasco has been planning a gas pipeline from Casino to Ipswitch and David Johnson said they hadn’t determined how the gas will be used at this stage, but it would ultimately be a commercial decision based on the best financial return for the company.

They had been planning to build a 30 megawatt power station at Casino, but Mr Johnson said they were now looking at building something much larger, possibly in the vicinity of 175 megawatts that could supply power to much of the Northern Rivers.

“It would be subject to all of the variables that we have to deal with like finding a suitable site and addressing all of the environmental concerns,” Mr Johnson said.

Electricity produced by burning gas produces very little carbon and uses very little water compared to coal, and there is now pressure from groups opposed to the construction of a major power transmission line upgrade from Bonshaw (west of Tenterfield) to Lismore for the project to be put on hold until it is known how much of the gas will be made available for energy production.

But electricity network operator TransGrid said they are pushing ahead with the line upgrade.

“Despite Metgasco’s new discovery, TransGrid needs to continue to move forward with our project to ensure the people of Far North NSW continue to have a reliable power supply into the future,” said Garrie Chubb, Manager of Network Planning at TransGrid. “Metgasco’s current power station proposal at Casino is only a third of the size necessary to ensure a reliable supply of electricity to the Far North Coast post 2012.

“TransGrid has a responsibility to our customers in NSW and the ACT to keep the lights on, and when assessing alternatives for any transmission line project, we require a high degree of certainty from all proposals, including generation. That degree of certainty was not provided by any alternatives proposed for our Far North NSW Project.”

NSW Greens MLC John Kaye has been leading the charge to stop the TransGrid project.

“The Metgasco find shows that TransGrid has failed to conduct a rigorous analysis of the need for the Lismore-Bonshaw high voltage powerline. The potential for local gas generation should be factored into any planning for the Far North Coast’s energy strategy. TransGrid’s planning dismissed any role for gas, renewable energy or demand management as a solution to the region’s future electricity needs. The electricity transmission authority is stuck in a network build mindset,” he said.

Mark Byrne from the Environmental Defenders Office has been advising community groups in the Tenterfield area opposed to the TransGrid plan.

“Our clients believe TransGrid has not done enough work on investigating alternatives to building new power lines, and the gas discovery reinforces the need to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “There is a legal obligation on TransGrid as part of its environmental assessment to give proper and genuine consideration to alternatives to the proposed power line project.

“The community is gearing up to have its say when the environmental assessment for the TransGrid project goes on public exhibition, which should be early next year.”

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