Newport Power Station

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Newport has had four power stations over the past 90 years - the coal fired A, B and C plants that have been demolished, and the gas fired Newport D which remain today.

Newport A, B and C

The coal powered Newport 'A' power station was opened by the Victorian Railways to supply the newly electrified suburban railways; work was authorised in 1912, construction was carried out between 1913 and 1918, with the first electricity being generated in 1919. By 1948 the generating capacity had been upgraded to 90 MW.

It was at the same time that the State Electricity Commission of Victoria was established by the state government, and given the responsibility of electricity generation, distribution and sale across Victoria. The Victorian Railways accepted that the Electricity Commissioners would take control of the facilities at Newport, but nothing was done until 21 years later.

The SECV also had a need for their own generation capacity. Their grand plan was for a base load power station at Yallourn in the Latrobe Valley, fuelled by brown coal from an adjacent open cut mine. However increasing load demands saw the SECV turn to a stopgap solution, deciding to buy surplus electricity from the VR station at Newport, and to build their own power station alongside.

This was made more difficult by the railway system generating AC current at 25 hertz, when the standard adopted throughout the state was 50 hertz. A frequency converter was installed to link the two systems, the SECV signing a contract to buy, distribute and resell up to 12.5 MW from the VR station. The frequency converter link was in operation by June 1923.

In 1920-21 work started on the SECV Newport 'B' station, equipped with two 15 MW turbo generators, one unit being a standby. It started producing electricity in October 1923, with the Victorian Railways being responsible for the day to day operation, managing the two plants as one.

Expansion plans followed, in 1937 an increase to 90 MW at Newport 'B' was given the go ahead. The first 30 MW unit was added in 1939, along with 5 new boilers providing the steam. The SECV also took over operation of the plant the same year.

Further plans were drawn up by the SECV for expansion of generation capacity at Newport, with Newport 'C' approved to have 90 MW of generation capacity, installed in three stages between 1940 and 1948. However World War Two intervened, with the existing generation plant nursed through the growing electrical demand, coupled with a lack of imported parts.

As a stopgap a 18 MW unit was added to Newport 'B' as spare steam was available, while the first 30 MW unit at 'C' was not commissioned until 1945. The second and third units followed in 1947 and 1948, with a fourth unit completing the station in 1950.

The boilers at Newport were originally provided with cast iron stokers designed for use with black coal, which needed to be imported from New South Wales, and held Victoria victim to strike action on the coal fields or in coastal shipping. Since the 1920s the SECV had been using Victorian brown coal in the power stations in the Latrobe Valley, but the high water content made transport uneconomic. Instead briquettes were produced from dried out brown coal in factories at Yallourn and later Morwell, the expansion of production in the 1940s leading to the electrification of the Gippsland railway to transport them.

Moves were made to burn briquettes produced by the SECV , but this caused the plates to become burnt out. Conversion work as required to convert the boilers to the new fuel, this being carried out by 1946. Ordinarily a high temperature alloy would have been used, but due to wartime restrictions a special special cast iron was developed by SECV researchers for the purpose.

The State Electricity Commission Act of 1948 passed control of Newport from the railways to the SECV, but it was not formally transferred until 1951.


Railway operations

The line to the power station was opened in 1914, when the power station was still under construction. The lines crossed Douglas Parade then headed south to the North Road boundary, where there was a balloon loop for the unloading for wagons, as well as a number of other sidings for the delivery of supplies and heavy equipment. Due to the tight curves 2 or more 20-ton I trucks with auto couplers were not allowed around the balloon loop. Additional sidings were also provided on the northern boundary of the power station.

Three inbound tracks ran along Douglas Parade until they were south of the power station, then merged into one and formed the balloon loop, running around the outside of the coal dump, a discharge pit being on the eastern edge. Additional dead end tracks ran through the middle of the dump. Two dead end sidings ran into the Newport 'A' boiler house, other sidings running beside the Newport 'B' boiler house and the Newport 'C' turbine hall.

The SECV operated a number of broad gauge locomotives at Newport for shunting purposes. Most notable was the six diesel electric shunters acquired in 1952 from the Dick Kerr Works in the United Kingdom. Identical to the Victorian Railways F class, they were numbered SEC1 through SEC6. The first 3 units were intended for Newport and saw service there, the other three were intended for use at Yallourn but ended up leased to the VR. All were sold to the VR in 1958 and renumbered.

After World War II the line was upgraded in conjunction with the expansion of the power station, with power signalling commissioned on December 17, 1948. In 1949 the SEC opened a fuel depot at nearby Paisley for the handling and stockpiling of briquettes, the SEC Sidings. Electrification of the line was commissioned on September 13, 1954. This was to permit trains hauled by L class locomotives to run from the briquette factories at Yallourn and Morwell in the Latrobe Valley to run through to the power station, where the briquettes fired the boilers.

On January 20, 1971 overhead wiring and some signalling was decommissioned, probably in conjunction with the closure of the power station.


Demise of the coal fired plants

The coal fired power stations at Newport had become less important with the construction of large base load power stations in the Latrobe Valley, with the plans being used for peak loads only. By the 1960s the plants were obsolete, with plans for the decommissioning of older units made public in 1967. The SECV also drew up plans for Newport 'D', a 1000 MW gas fired peak load power station located north of the existing coal powered units.

Approval for construction was given by the State Government was given in June 1971, and was supported by both parties in both houses of parliament. It was also given the go ahead by the EPA. However environmental and union protests held up construction of the new plant throughout the 1970s.


Newport D meets resistance

Protest groups included:

  • Amalgamated Metal Workers Union
  • Electrical Trades Union
  • Federated Engine Drivers' and Firemen's Union
  • Plumbers and Gasfitters Association
  • Furnishing Trades Society
  • Waterside Workers' Federation
  • Seamen's Union
  • Anti-Newport Coalition, made up of the Williamstown Conservation and Planning Society, Port Phillip Conservation Council, and the Australian Conservation Federation.

The SECV had been intended for the first 500 MW unit to be brought into operation in 1976, the second in 1978. Due to the bans the SECV estimated in 1975 that winter 1978 would be the earliest the the first unit could be completed.

After a massive public relations war between the SECV and opponents, in April 1977 the Newport Review Panel decided that only one of the units was to be built, halving the size of the power station to 500 MW. Site works finally started in 1977, but union bans were still in place, with the Victorian Public Works Department supplying day labour forces, in conjunction with a single contractor. As work progressed more contractors joined the project, with the Department withdrawing their labour. Newport 'D' was finally brought into use in late 1980, and continues to generate electricity today, but under private ownership.

The last generators at the coal powered stations was not shut down until 1980. They have since been demolished and the area turned into parkland and sports ovals. Some of the ancillary areas of the power station remain today in the fenced off area north of the current power station.


Aerial Photos

1945 photo map of Melbourne, produced by the Victorian Department of Lands and Survey, now accessable via the University of Melbourne:

1945 aerial photo of Newport Power Station

Morgan's Street Directory, circa 1940s:

Newport Power Station in the Morgan's Street Directory