Some Victorians may be without power for days as electricity companies investigate the cause behind power outages affecting about half a million customers across the state.
One of Victoria’s three remaining coal-fired power stations shut down just after 2pm today, causing wholesale power prices to soar.
All four units at AGL’s Loy Yang A power station in the Latrobe Valley are offline.
It’s believed two transmission towers physically collapsed, preventing them from transmitting electricity through the lines, which caused Loy Yang A to trip.
“I have met with the CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator about the current unprecedented impact of extreme weather on Victoria’s power grid,” Energy Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.
AGL will leave one unit offline, with the other units to come back online throughout the evening.
“Work is underway to return units back to service,” an AGL spokesperson said.
“This will take place over the next few hours in line with our safety and operational protocols, and as associated transmission line issues are resolved.”
Supply back after load shedding
When fully operational, Loy Yang A has a maximum capacity of 2,200 megawatts.
The outage comes as nearby Yallourn Power Station, owned by Energy Australia, is operating at half-capacity due to repair works.
Victorian wholesale power prices increased to $16,600 per megawatt hour this afternoon, compared to $29.61 in Queensland and $286.97 in NSW.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) started load shedding (switching customers off due to a lack of supply) in Victoria just after 2pm.
It has now resumed electricity supply to the 90,000 or so customers who were affected.
Many parts of Victoria recorded temperatures in the mid to high 30s today.
United Energy, which services Melbourne’s south-east and the Mornington Peninsula, reported nearly 51,000 customers were without power.
AusNet reported 43,000 of its customers were without power, while Citipower and Powercor had 107,000 customers offline.
Cause being investigated
The AEMO said in a statement it was investigating the cause of the power outages.
“In Victoria, the Moorabool to Sydenham 500 kilovolt transmission line tripped, multiple generators disconnected from the grid and some consumers experienced a loss of electricity supply,” it stated.
“To keep the power system secure, AEMO has directed AusNet Services to enact load shedding.
“Controlled load shedding is a mechanism AEMO uses as an absolute last resort to protect system security and prevent long-term damage to system infrastructure.”
It may take days for power to be restored
Citipower and Powercor spokesperson Emma Tyner said a combination of extreme temperatures, strong winds and thousands of lightning strikes were damaging electrical infrastructure.
Citipower supplies 332,000 customer connections in the Melbourne CBD and inner suburbs, while Powercor supplies electricity across 64 per cent of Victoria, west of Melbourne and through central and western Victoria.
“It’s very widespread, from the western suburbs of Melbourne, Bendigo, through the inner suburbs of Melbourne, Ballarat, Maryborough, Charlton, Shepparton,” she said.
“The band of lightning and extraordinary wind that we’ve seen push through the state has caused extensive damage and we’re still seeing this weather pattern pass through.”
Ms Tyner said some customers may have to wait for days before power is restored.
“There are almost 400 different faults across our network. This will take a number of days we believe,” she said.
“Those that still do have power, we are encouraging them to take steps because this weather is going to continue.”
Need for more energy production locally
Victoria Energy Policy Centre director Bruce Mountain said it was not yet clear what was to blame for the power outages.
“It’s too soon to apportion blame to either individual generators or the transmission system,” he said.
“But I can say our electrical system is pretty precarious overall and this is quite worrying.”
Professor Mountain said if all four generating units of the Loy Yang A power station returned to service this evening, the situation would stabilise and electricity prices would drop back down.
But he said more energy needed to be produced locally to reduce the energy system’s vulnerability to weather.
“We are very exposed through long distance transmission lines to winds and storms and I think that may well be the root of the problem here,” Professor Mountain said.
“We can produce electricity cheaply locally.”
Businesses turn away customers
Amber Henderson, who owns Misty Hills Café at Neerim South in west Gippsland, said she had turned away customers and sent a staff member home after the power went out during lunch service.
“It definitely takes an emotional toll, you feel very responsible, especially for the staff,” Ms Henderson said.
“It’s just so inconvenient but we still managed okay this time.”
She said it was lucky her husband Brad Carbery had been able to drop off a generator, or she might have lost all her stock.
“When you’re in the middle of service and we’re trying to prepare for things like Valentine’s Day, you’ve also got more staff on so you’re paying extra wages to do that sort of prep and none of that can be completed,” Ms Henderson said.
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