Power outages in WA may be a sign of what’s to come, independent review finds


Western Australia has released the independent review into its Christmas 2021 power outages with the state’s energy minister Bill Johnston tabling the report in state parliament today.

Its author, Australian Energy Market Commissioner Michelle Shepherd, found the outages, which began on Christmas Eve and last until December 28, impacted 107,000 Western Power customers and were caused by record-breaking high temperatures over those four days.

“The Christmas outages occurred during an extreme heatwave resulting in electricity demand exceeding historical peaks in some residential areas,” Shepherd said. “The outages were largely caused by parts of the network not having the capacity to meet the unusually high electricity demand.

“While the severity of the heatwave is historically rare, it’s expected similar events may occur more frequently in the future due to the impacts of climate change,” she added.

The recommendations of the report include improving planning and forecasting at the state-owned Western Power, improving its approach to fire risk management and operational response to extreme weather events. It also recommended improvements to customer and community communications, and greater transparency of reliability issues.

One of WA’s PowerBank community batteries in Ellenbrook, Western Australia. (Left to right) State Minister for Energy Bill Johnston, Member for Swan Hills Jessica Shaw, Synergy CEO Jason Waters, and David Fyfe, executive manager of Western Power.

Photo: Synergy

Minister Johnston said he has written to the Western Power chair asking for a timeline of when the recommendations will be implemented. He also noted the report’s finding that his government had approved all funding requests made by Western Power towards capital improvements to the distribution network over the past five years, concluding there was ‘no evidence that investments were delayed or did not occur due to regulatory or governmental decisions.’

The minister said Western Power is preparing for future outages by rolling out batteries, microgrids, and standalone power systems. 

The state leads the world in the deployment of standalone systems, often called SAPS and last year Western Power it expanded its successful community battery rollout. 

WA is also moving forward with its first big battery at the decommissioned Kwinana Power Station, awarding New Horizons Ahead the contract to build a 100MW/200MWh battery energy storage system (BESS) at the site.

The state government has also upped the payment for households affected by extended outages, moving it from $80 to $120 permanently. It has also extended the timeframe in which households can lodge a claim for this particular event, giving Western Power customers until August 29, 2022.

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