ETU Media Releases

The restoration of electricity services to North West communities ravaged by a huge bushfire on Sunday could take a week or more, with local power workers warning that recent cuts to staffing numbers have drastically reduced their ability to replace damaged infrastructure.

The Electrical Trades Union said members at the NSW Government-owned electricity network operator Essential Energy reported that the bushfire that claimed more than 30 homes had also destroyed 280 power poles and damaged hundreds of kilometers of power lines.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said residents returning to fire ravaged areas around Uarbry, Leadville and Cassilis faced being without electricity for days to come as a reduced number of maintenance crews worked around the clock to restore services.

“This is a massive repair job by any standard, but exhausted power workers have told the union their efforts to restore electricity services to these regional communities has been made substantially harder due to massive staffing cuts implemented by the NSW Government,” Mr McKinley said.

“Essential Energy crews have been sent from as far away as the Riverina and North Coast to assist with this repair work, but even with these additional resources there simply aren’t enough workers on the ground to restore power quickly following a natural disaster of this scale.

“The National Party has been caught with its pants down by this fire which has exposed as false their repeated claims before the 2015 election that they had saved Essential Energy.”

Mr McKinley said major Essential Energy depots in nearby regional centres such as Dubbo, Mudgee, Parkes and Forbes had lost up to a third of their workforce in recent years, while the company had just commenced a further 600 job cuts across the rural and regional power network.

“Since the Liberals and Nationals took power in 2011, we’ve seen the number of front-line electricity workers at Essential Energy slashed,” he said.

“Regional electricity customers pay some of the highest electricity prices in the country, so it shouldn’t be unreasonable for them to expect an appropriate number of workers will be available to restore power following bushfires and other natural disasters.

“Our members are doing their best to get power restored as quickly as possible, but with the scale of the damage — and the number of poles that need replacing — it may take up to a week.”

The union said local Essential Energy workers were upset by the pace of the response, saying they felt let down by the decisions of management and the NSW Government to drastically reduce workforce numbers.

“The distress of many victims of this bushfire has been amplified by delays with power restoration,” Mr McKinley said.

“While this is clearly the fault of Essential Energy management and the NSW Government, who are responsible for slashing regional electricity jobs, that doesn’t make things any easier for front-line workers.

“The union is encouraging Essential Energy management to at least seek to mitigate the problem by calling on the new owners of Ausgrid — which has depots just half an hour away — to send additional resources to assist with restoring power to these regional communities as quickly as possible.”
Thousands of NSW power consumers may be forced to endure blackouts this afternoon after the national electricity market operator warned of a looming power shortage as heatwave conditions cause demand to far outstrip supply.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has issued a warning that between 3pm and 5.30pm this afternoon NSW faces a shortfall of 419 megawatts of power even after importing large amounts of electricity from neighboring Victoria and Queensland.

Unless additional generating capacity can be found, AEMO may be forced to repeat the load shedding order that saw 90,000 homes in South Australia have their power supplies cut earlier this week.

The Electrical Trades Union said the NSW Liberals and Nationals were directly responsible for this looming power crisis as a result of the privatisation of electricity generating assets in 2014.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley highlighted the case of Wallerawang power station, near Lithgow, which was previously capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of baseload power but was closed down shortly after being purchased by Chinese-owned company Energy Australia.

“In 2014, the NSW Liberals and Nationals privatised our state’s publicly owned power stations,” Mr McKinley said.

“One of the first actions of these new private owners was to close Wallerawang, resulting in a substantial reduction to available electricity supplies and severely limiting the state’s ability to meet peak demand.

“If Wallerawang was still operating today, we would not be facing the load shedding and forced power blackouts that the national energy market operator is forecasting.

“The Liberals and Nationals told everyone that electricity privatisation would mean lower power prices and better services, but what we are likely to see today is the clearest possible evidence that the people of NSW were lied to.

“Electricity is an essential service, but when profit-hungry foreign investors take control of our public assets, they put their own interests ahead of the people of NSW, with consumers left to pay the price.

“South Australia is currently facing the same problem, with a lack of investment by the private sector in new base load electricity generation meaning higher prices for consumers and reduced reliability during times of high demand.

“We are now facing the potential for an east coast power crisis because privatisation has failed to deliver the promised outcomes.

“The current challenges in NSW have nothing to do with renewable energy generation and everything to do with private companies exploiting their power in a monopoly market while the people of NSW and South Australia are left to sweat it out.”



SOURCE: Australian Energy Market Operator forecast evening of 9 February - NSW 418MW undersupply or equivalent to 400,000 homes, https://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/National-Electricity-Market-NEM/Data-dashboard#operational-demand