South Australia could soon face the first of its summer power struggles, with AEMO warning of an upcoming shortfall.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) predicts SA will be short about 290 megawatts in the three-day period from November 21 to 23, but the warning is based on a worst-case scenario that would involve significant generator failures.

AEMO says the possible energy reserve shortfall is based on “conservative estimates” that do “not necessarily translate to real energy shortfalls”.

Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis has been keen to point out that the forecast shortage is related to AEMO’s mandatory “safety buffer”, and that the SA Government’s new powers to prevent load shedding could be used to stop it.

But some have accused the Government of attempting to downplay the precarious nature of the state’s power supplies, with reports that gas generators have been forced to turn on or stay on several times to prevent blackouts this year.

The most significant of these was on February 8, when close to 90,000 customers were deliberately blacked out for about 45 minutes when demand outstripped predictions, wind power dwindled and several gas generators were unavailable. At that time, AEMO had forced SA Power Networks to shed 100MW of load, but a mistake in the computer system led to almost three times that amount being cut.

The Government has been working with AEMO on plans to ensure SA will have enough power during summer, but recent reports suggest they will be unlikely to be ready before predicted shortfalls.

Mr Koutsantonis has not given a ready date for the new generators, set to provide an extra 276MW, other than to say the December 1 deadline for operation will be met.

AEMO has forecast reserve shortages every week during January and February, something Mr Koutsantonis says is “exactly why” the State Government set up its new energy plan.

“[That is] why we have invested in securing a state-owned power station and Tesla grid-scale battery to be available in emergency situations,” he said.

“I also have new powers to direct generators to turn on to prevent load-shedding, so there are a number of tools at our disposal this summer.

“It is important to remember that AEMO is not forecasting an actual shortfall of power, rather these are reserve shortfalls, which is the safety buffer of additional supply that the market operator requires.

“AEMO themselves have said SA’s back-up power plant and Tesla grid-scale battery will dramatically reduce the potential for supply shortfalls to occur this summer.”

AEMO says contracts for its strategic reserve program are still being finalised, but that an additional capacity of about 240MW should be ready for the periods of highest demand.