Farmers rankled by power outages

31 Jan, 2019 04:00 PM
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The power grid is not fit for purpose.

The extreme temperatures experienced last Friday and subsequent “load shedding” – or rolling power outages – have added to the frustration of many Victorian dairy farmers about power reliability.

Temperatures in the mid-40s across large areas of the State saw electricity providers introduce load shedding because of a shortfall in power generation.

The result for dairy farmers in affected areas was power failure to dairy infrastructure, without any warning.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) reported that during the peak demand period on Friday, more than 250 megawatts required to be shed, equating to about 60,000-100,000 consumers impacted at any one time on rotation.

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  • Western Victorian dairy farmer Bernard Free said the power to his dairy went off without warning for about two hours on Friday.

    The power failure forced him to find an alternative way to provide drinking water for the 450-cow herd.

    “Everything stops if the power goes off in country areas,” Mr Free said.

    The biggest frustration was that there had been nothing done about power supply in Victoria since the closure of the Hazelwood power station was flagged in 2017.

    “The big issue is that all power generation is heading toward the end of its life span and reliability will be a bigger and bigger issue,” he said.

    “Solar panels and wind turbines don’t operate all the time. The energy generated needs to be captured and stored.

    “They should have had it sorted by now.

    “We need secure power supplies.”

    Mr Free said solar panels on his dairy with 30kW capacity shut down as soon as power was cut.

    “But the solar panels are not an emergency power source,” he said.

    “The power grid is not fit for purpose.

    “I could put more panels up but the grid is not designed to accept any more.”

    Athlone, Vic, dairy farmer, and longtime solar user Lindsay Anderson said the reliability of power was critical for his dairy operation that includes robotic milking plants.

    After first installing solar panels in 2010 he now has solar, wind, batteries and grid-connected power.

    Power included 15kW “off grid” that was stored in batteries.

    Mr Anderson said all renewables that were connected to the grid, followed the grid - when the grid was shut down so was the renewable.

    He said it was critical that dairy farmers had a “hybrid” (simultaneously manage inputs from both solar panels and a battery bank) inverter and some battery capacity to ensure they had power during an outage.

    “It doesn’t have to be a huge battery, just one that gives an option to run a part of the system when the grid fails,” he said.

    A Powercor spokeswoman said the Powercor team “worked hard in advance of extreme weather events like we had on Friday”.

    “We activate extra crews to be available in the field and in our customer call centre to ensure we can respond quickly to customer needs,” the spokeswoman said.

    “We also notified any customers we know who rely on electricity for life support to ensure they had alternative care plans in place in case of any outages.

    “On Friday, we were directed to load shed power supplies by the AEMO at 12 noon as there was a shortfall in power generation.

    “Given the short notice provided during a load-shedding event, we are unable to selectively keep power on to individual customers in areas impacted by load shedding,” the spokeswoman said.

    “AEMO directed an end to load shedding at about 3pm and, at that time, we began the work to progressively and safely restore power across the network."

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