Blackout leaves tens of thousands of residents, businesses in Mid West in the dark

Phoebe Pin and Michael Roberts Geraldton Guardian
The Mid West has suffered another widespread blackout.
Camera IconThe Mid West has suffered another widespread blackout. Credit: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Tens of thousands of Geraldton homes were without power as part of a region-wide blackout at the weekend, with some Mid West residents still experiencing outages on Monday.

More than 1330 Western Power customers across the region were waiting to be reconnected, with areas including Leeman, Green Head, Jurien Bay, Binnu, Dongara and Greenough still without power.

Geraldton’s blackout started about 8.45am on Sunday as power was cut off to about 18,000 homes and businesses.

A Western Power spokesperson said the power outages were caused by “hot weather conditions”.

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Temperatures reached 44.7C at Geraldton Airport on Saturday, but reached a maximum of only 28.2C on Sunday.

The lights were switched back on in Geraldton by 12pm, according to Western Power.

But more remote areas of the Mid West weren’t so lucky.

Shire of Northampton chief executive Garry Keeffe said power was restored to most of his local government area by Sunday night, following an all-day blackout.

On Monday, Mr Keeffe said he was aware of some areas in the Shire’s north which were still waiting for power to be restored.

While Geraldton has not experienced an outage of the scale and duration of the weekend’s blackout, Mr Keeffe said it was nothing new for the Northampton community.

“We know Western Power is doing the best they can, but it is just getting quite frustrating,” Mr Keeffe said.

“In Port Gregory and Horrocks, they have had frequent outages for the last week and a half.”

Mr Keeffe said most residents and businesses within the Shire had invested in generators since cyclone Seroja, after which access to power had become even more unreliable.

“We have just installed a large generator at the Shire office so we can keep the lights on when the power goes out. But these are an additional cost for everybody,” he said.

Deputy Opposition Leader Shane Love, who last week launched a petition calling for an independent inquiry into WA’s regional electricity network, said the weekend’s blackouts were more proof the system was not fit for purpose.

“For a lot of people they are just becoming so fatigued by it all, they just don’t know what to do,” he said.

“It has been widespread all summer.

“It seems to me that if it isn’t in the Goldilocks zone of weather, we shouldn’t expect to have power anymore and that’s not good enough.”

Energy Minister Bill Johnston said a review of regional power systems such as those in the Mid West was already under way following major outages over the Christmas period.

“The independent Christmas power outage review that affected communities across the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) from December 24 to 28 last year commenced on 31 January 2022,” he said.

“The SWIS provides power to most of WA’s population — starting in Kalbarri in the north, it spans through Perth to Albany and Ravensthorpe, and east to the Kalgoorlie-Goldfields region.

“So the review is already closely looking at regional areas in the SWIS.

“The review is considering the activities that Western Power can and can’t undertake during high fire risk days.”

At least two households in the Yallabatharra area in the Shire of Northampton are yet to have their connection restored since the cyclone and have been powered by interim generators for about 10 months.

A Western Power spokesperson said a stand-alone power system would be installed at the properties, with more than 80 systems to be deployed across the Mid West this year.

“The SPS units combine solar and battery technology, and sometimes a backup generator, and are a more economic and more reliable power source compared to traditional poles and wires,” they said.

“Interestingly, during cyclone Seroja, six customers with SPS were able to maintain power the entire time — despite the cyclone eviscerating the overhead Western Power network in the Mid West. To date we have commissioned 38 units in response to Cyclone Seroja.”

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