THE controversial T4 coal-loader has been put back by two years and is unlikely – if approved – to be shipping coal before the second half of 2017.
Port Waratah Coal Services chief executive Hennie Du Plooy announced the delay yesterday, saying it ‘‘wasn’t a complete surprise’’ to the coal industry.
Mr Du Plooy said PWCS was still working to have the loader approved by the state government, but this was taking longer than expected.
Other problems, including geotechnical difficulties with the site – a former BHP dump on Kooragang Island – were adding to the task.
These problems increased the ‘‘engineering risk’’ associated with the project, which was valued at $4 billion to $5 billion in its first stage alone.
Mr Du Plooy said the difficulties meant PWCS would seek a review of the Long Term Commercial Framework agreement it signed with Newcastle Port Corporation to manage the orderly expansion of the Hunter export industry.
This agreement required PWCS to plan for T4 once contracted demand hit 145 million tonnes in a year.
Mr Du Plooy said PWCS had ‘‘take or pay’’ contracts for 176.7 million tonnes in 2016, but its customers were likely to ship less than 110 million tonnes this year, compared with capacity of 133 million tonnes, rising to 145million tonnes next year without T4.
‘‘Updated information also shows that Hunter Valley rail track capacity will not be available to service the new terminal by early 2015,’’ Mr Du Plooy said.
The federally funded Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) denied it was the weak link in the system, saying it ‘‘continues to provide capacity ahead of demand’’.
‘‘We have a $1.6 billion program under way that will deliver rail capacity to support projected demand of volumes of 208 million tonnes a year by the end of 2015,’’ ARTC said.
While PWCS’s announcement followed Newcastle Herald articles airing speculation over a potential lack of demand for T4, Mr Du Plooy said it would be wrong to focus on a short-term dip in the market at the expense of Newcastle’s long-term trend of steady expansion.