The West

Electricity crisis for Albany
Black-out fears: Albany is facing an electricity crisis. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

The lights in Albany are at risk of going out because of bungling by Western Power that has left the city on the brink of an energy crisis.

In revelations that have raised questions about Western Power's procurement processes, it has emerged the utility has not replaced a transformer near Collie despite it breaking down almost two years ago.

The transformer connects Albany to Collie's generators and its failure, along with one in February, has left Albany's electricity supplies hanging by a thread.

Albany is now largely reliant on the much-maligned Muja AB power station, a 60-year-old coal-fired plant controversially refurbished by the State Government.

Its only other power source of note is a wind farm, which is inherently intermittent.

The situation is unlikely to improve until at least September, when a replacement transformer is expected.

In a sign of the region’s fragile energy supplies, it is understood an unplanned outage at Muja AB last Friday caused blackouts across the Great Southern.

Western Power, in a press release this week, attempted to hose down its role in the events, saying despite the setbacks “the network continues to be managed according to its design”.

The genesis of the situation can be traced back to September 2012, when a transformer known as BTT1 failed. The failure sparked a search from Western Power to find a replacement transformer — a process that takes months.

But industry sources have described the procurement process, in which a unit was ordered from a Victorian manufacturer, as a “debacle” that failed to deliver had yet to deliver a replacement.

In a fact sheet explaining the situation, Western Power said that “a number of unexpected manufacturing issues ... have delayed its delivery date”.

The situation electricity crisis risk was compounded in February when another transformer also failed, leaving Muja AB as the only base-load generator able to supply Albany.

Western Power said it was maintaining electricity security to the Great Southern and had used a number of fallback plans, including getting some customers to reduce their demand at peak times.

The West Australian

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