7 December 2020

Storm's aftermath highlights major issues with electricity supply, says Hilltops mayor

| Edwina Mason
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Unplanned power outages across the Hilltops region

Unplanned power outages across the Hilltops region as at 5:30 pm Wednesday 2 December, 27 hours after a destructive weather event hit the area. Image: Essential Energy.

Local government sources in the Hilltops region say that extensive power outages in the wake of last week’s storm amount to a continuing pattern of “gross mismanagement” as the clean-up continues after what amounted to a mini-tornado hit the South West Slopes.

Hilltops mayor Brian Ingram says that not only was part of his shire decimated by storms last week but that much of it was still without power more than 24 hours later.

The powerful storm upended sheds, felled trees and caused widespread chaos. But it’s also raised serious questions about the adequacy of services in the busy community, where consumers say there have been more than two dozen outages of more than three hours’ duration in the last two years.

Speaking after the deluge, Cr Ingram said he found it difficult to work out why the southern side of Young had power operating relatively quickly, but power was out across much of the north of the town for a much lengthier period.

The prolonged outage highlighted the sensitive nature of a vital utility for the region.

“It’s a bit of concern that we are so vulnerable in terms of our electricity supply and our grid,” he said, “that it can collapse over such a big area at one time and take so long to get back”.

“That’s something they need to look at, but I also know people have been complaining to Essential Energy about the outages for a while now. There’s some work that needs to be done somewhere because it has massive effects everywhere”.

READ ALSO Severe storm leaves trail of destruction across Hilltops

But Cr Ingram’s concerns are nothing compared to his council colleague Cr Tony Flanery – a farmer and businessman – who over 24 hours had to hunt down a refrigerated truck and then water trucks to ensure his 60 lugs of harvested cherries remained cool and his feedlot cattle had water.

“I think all the orchards in the Young region were affected,” he said, “our coolrooms went down but I think there were some worse off than us.”

“At our feedlot at Solferino we basically had to truck water in to fill the tanks because none of the pumps were working and because the township of Young was out there was no mobile so we couldn’t access any of the staff over there,” he said, “it was lucky China only put up photos of Australian soldiers, I would hate to see what would happens as far as national security risk goes if they turned off our network”.

Power was restored to Tony’s operations north of Young around 10:30 am Wednesday morning but his property at Galong was still without power when About Regional spoke with him later that day.

“No stock water, no electricity, then you can’t run a business. We’ve now had 25 unplanned outages in the past 23 months, of three hours or more,” he said, “it’s gross mismanagement.”

He said official complaints and a letter had been sent to Essential Energy’s CEO John Cleland.

Essential Energy Operations Manager, Riverina Slopes, Shawn Eade said the storms caused significant damage to the electricity network and power outages for 31,000 customers in the Riverina, South West Slopes, Orana and Central Tablelands regions.

“With strong winds destroying many power poles and trees falling on powerlines, Essential Energy crews from across the state were dispatched immediately to repair the electricity network,” Mr Eade said. “Crews worked throughout the night in challenging conditions to restore power to approximately 28,000 customers”.

He maintains that over 12,000 customers in the Hilltops Local Government Area (LGA) lost power from 3 pm on December 1, but 80 per cent of those had power restored by nightfall.

Additional crews were deployed from Wagga Wagga, Tumut, Albury, Culcairn, Canowindra, Molong and Orange to assist the local Young, Boorowa, Harden and Cowra depots.

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