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$950m boost to regional power

THE frequency of brownouts and blackouts in regional areas may be reduced following the commitment by Western Power of $950 million towards power transmission and distribution improvements.

However, the money will be spent over the next four years and is not likely to solve all of the problems the regions are experiencing.

Residents in the affected areas are also cynical about the benefits they will receive from the proposed disaggregation of Western Power, although the Government argues the change will benefit them.

Parts of the Goldfields-Esperance, Great Southern and Wheatbelt regions have been blighted by poor power supplies for years as demand grows on the South West Interconnected System, Western Australia’s main power grid.

Those problems have been caused, in part, by an ageing transmission network and growing power demand within regional towns.

The power shortages are proving costly for existing businesses and are a disincentive for new businesses to come to the area.

In Ravensthorpe, for example, most businesses have fitted surge-suppressing devices to protect equipment such as computers.

Despite this the Ravensthorpe Shire Council lost three computers and two surge suppressors this year.

A Western Power spokesman said the $950 million investment would go some way towards diminishing the brownout problems country areas were facing.

However, he said it would not entirely remove the risk of blackouts from things such as bushfires or bad weather damaging power lines.

Ravensthorpe Shire president Rusty Lee said there was not enough capacity to expand power capacity within the town site.

“The newly-built Ravensthorpe Hospital has to rely on self-generated power,” he said.

Gnowangerup Shire president Jan Savage said power problems were a major disincentive for businesses to come to the region.

“Why is it when somebody in Ongerup uses a grinder to sharpen their shears do lights go dim?” she asked.

Wheatbelt Development Commission assistant director Damien Martin said the power shortages had made it difficult to attract business to the area.

“The Avon Industrial Park at Northam is hamstrung by electricity capacity at the moment,” he said.

Mr Lee questioned the benefits to regional areas from the proposed break up of Western Power.

Electricity Reform Implementation Unit executive director Steve Edwell said the benefits to the regions would come from having a business solely devoted to transmission issues.

“At the moment Western Power has to ration its capital between generation, transmission and other areas of the business,” he said.

“The new transmission business will have its own capital budget and be concentrating solely on transmission issues.

“With private sector competition in the generation sector, the Government will have to spend less on that side of the business and have more funds to spend on things such as network infrastructure.”

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