Australia’s power grid operator warns bushfires could bring down vital transmission lines and raise the likelihood of further blackouts this weekend when fire conditions are forecast to intensify.
Just days after fires and winds damaged power lines and forced outages for tens of thousands of households in bushfire-affected towns in the nation’s south-east, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) on Friday warned “severe and extreme bushfire conditions” could escalate on Saturday and threaten the grid again.
One of the weekend’s biggest potential threats to the energy network is if bushfires hit the critical interconnector linking the grid in Victoria and New South Wales.
NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean said back-burning operations in the area had been put in place. He said he was confident the state was in good shape to avoid widespread blackouts during the extreme bushfire danger over the coming days, and to manage the risks from bushfires hitting key electricity network infrastructure.
“Our forecast shows there’s enough capacity to keep the lights on across NSW in the event we have damage to Snowy Hydro and the Victorian interconnector,” Mr Kean said.
“We have a plan to protect those assets which is currently being executed through back-burning and use of fire retardant. Those efforts are going well and we wait to see what the day brings tomorrow.”
NSW grid operator TransGrid said it was working with AEMO, the Rural Fire Service and the NSW government ahead of what could prove to be a challenging day for the network.
As bushfires threaten the Upper Tumut, Lower Tumut and Murray substations in NSW’s south, the situation prompted TransGrid to call on the Rural Fire Service to carry out emergency back-burning work on Thursday night
“RFS subsequently carried out hazard reduction back-burning operation late on Thursday,” a TransGrid spokeswoman said. “It needed to be done before winds and temperatures picked up.”
TransGrid on Friday briefed the NSW government about transmission issues ahead of the weekend, and remains in “constant contact” with AEMO, the RFS, NSW government and other stakeholders.
Power restoration has been progressing since the catastrophic fires on New Year’s Eve, but 10,000 customers around Tumbarumba and along the South Coast are still without electricity. There are also 5800 customers without power around Sussex Inlet. The NSW government is moving generators there, aiming to connect them as soon as possible before peak fire danger on Saturday.
Although concerned about fires knocking out poles and wires and leaving some towns disconnected from the grid, AEMO is confident it has adequate emergency power reserves to meet the predicted surge in demand in all areas of the National Energy Market even with generation units set to be out of service.
Power giant AGL’s damaged generation unit at Victoria’s Loy Yang A coal-fired power station is not due not be brought back to service until early next week. It also said it would have to bring another unit offline at its Liddell power in NSW for five days beginning on Saturday for repairs.
Rolling blackouts were narrowly averted earlier this week when authorities were forced to suddenly called on emergency power reserves to fill a shortfall in supply due in Victoria.
Amid scorching temperatures of more than 40 degrees across the state, AEMO issued a level-two “lack of reserve” warning for three hours on Monday evening, when hundreds of thousands of households were expected to power up their airconditioners at once. AEMO urgently contracted additional capacity – contacting large industrial energy users to ask them power down and tapping generators capable of bringing more supply online – in an effort to ease the strain.
Also on Friday, AGL became the latest company to provide financial relief for the thousands of volunteers battling the bushfires, offering to slash firefighters’ household power and gas bills.
AGL urged volunteer firefighters to provide their volunteer ID numbers in order to receive bill relief of up to $150 per customer on their next invoice. Based on the number of volunteer firefighters likely to have accounts with the power giant, the relief package could be worth more than $5 million.
“This goodwill gesture is our way of supporting these heroes who have been saving lives and property by fighting the bushfires which are having such a devastating impact on our communities,” AGL customer advocate David Bland said.
Source: Thanks smh.com