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by Laura Jones

The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap has started generating power from natural gas in a move that is both cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Since Pine Gap's construction 45 years ago, the facility has generated all of its power with diesel-fuelled generators. The new natural gas pipeline is Pine Gap's first physical connection to an energy utility outside the facility.

Pine Gap, which is located 30km outside Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, is a joint Australia-United States intelligence collection facility that contributes to the national security of both nations by providing information on terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and military and weapons developments. Through Pine Gap, Australia also supports the United States in its ballistic missile early warning program by hosting a space-based infra-red system relay ground station.

In March last year, Defence signed a 15-year contract with the Northern Territory Power and Water Corporation to supply natural gas to Pine Gap. The pipeline linking Pine Gap to the existing Darwin to Alice Springs pipeline was constructed by APA Group under contract to Envestra Limited.

At the time Defence was negotiating the contract, Pine Gap's engineers were installing four new dual diesel-natural gas generators in the facility's powerhouse. The new generators ran on diesel fuel until the pipeline was commissioned and now form the backbone of Pine Gap's more efficient power generation.

Constructing even a short length of gas pipeline in the Australian outback was no mean feat and was not without uniquely outback incidents.

Construction crews had to deal with outback wildlife like snakes and dingos. At one stage, a large bushfire burned up to Pine Gap's perimeter fence, threatening not only Pine Gap's property but the unfinished gas pipeline and gas pressure reduction station. A construction crew had to be called out in the middle of the night to move their trucks and equipment from the fire front, and also helped the Alice Springs volunteer bushfire brigade prevent further spread of the fire towards Pine Gap. Fortunately, the pipeline construction right-of-way made a firebreak that protected the not-yet-buried pipeline.

Deputy Secretary Intelligence and Security, Steve Meekin, and US government counterpart Bruce Carlson, attended a recent commissioning ceremony for the new pipeline, marking a new era in power generation for Pine Gap.