Western Australia’s energy minister has vowed to investigate why gas generators designed to provide backup power across Kalgoorlie failed during a massive outage this week, as thousands in the Perth hills and Wheatbelt remain without power.
Hundreds of crews have worked throughout the weekend and made “good progress” in their restoration efforts, according to Western Power.
Power had been restored to impacted customers in Kalgoorlie and surrounding areas by Sunday morning.
However, as of Sunday afternoon, 2,400 customers remained without power in other parts of the state, with 400 impacted in the Perth hills and 1,800 in the Wheatbelt.
The figure is down from 3,800 customers experiencing blackouts on Saturday afternoon.
The Wheatbelt towns of Dandaragan, Dowerin and Wyalkatchem have been restored.
At its peak, more than 34,000 people were left without power across the Goldfields, Wheatbelt and Perth Hills after a supercell crumpled critical transmission infrastructure.
Following the Wednesday outage, two Synergy-owned gas generators that were supposed to provide backup supply to Kalgoorlie tripped and failed.
It wasn’t the first time there were problems with backup supply, with a “communications issue” delaying generators being switched on during an outage in 2022.
“[The state government] in 2022 acknowledged the need for improving the network and improving backup here in Kalgoorlie and quite clearly they’ve done nothing,” WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam said on Saturday.
One of those generators is now up and running, which has helped establish temporary power across most of the city.
Speaking to the media in Kalgoorlie on Saturday, Energy Minister Reece Whitby said there was clearly an issue with the infrastructure and he would ask Synergy to review the exact cause of the failure.
He did not say whether the government was ever warned there was a risk the generators might not work.
“I’ve asked for an investigation by Synergy to work out what happened,” he said.
“What we don’t know was whether there was a fault in the actual turbine or if there was a fault in the network that resulted in the turbine not being available.
“But there is an issue with the turbines in Kalgoorlie, I’m going to be very frank about that.”
He said they would be looking at ways to resolve the issue in the future, which may include input from private generators.
Premier Roger Cook said he was confident in the way Western Power was being run, noting it was a complex system that had been pushed by the extreme weather events.
He said he would not seek to privatise the network.
“By owning our electricity network we can continue to invest and make sure it’s there for the community, not there for profits,” he said.
Western Power acting CEO Jacqui Hall said it was working with the Parkeston power station, which is privately owned and supplies the mining industry, to bring supply back to Kalgoorlie.
Government to consider increasing payments
Mr Whitby also said the government would consider helping business owners left out of pocket by the outage.
Residents like Kalgoorlie butcher Steve McKenny – who estimated he lost $100,000 worth of meat — and Wheatbelt Dr Michael Livingston — who believes loss of medicines and the forced closure of his business would have cost $20,000 — have been left severely short-changed by the incident.
Mr Whitby said he will discuss the matter with cabinet on Monday.
“I’m going to work to see if something can’t be done for these businesses,” he said.
“I will examine what we can do.”
The current maximum payment available to residents is $240.
Mr Whitby also called on insurers to “do the right thing” by business owners.
Bowling club shelter
Meanwhile, the Wongan-Ballidu shire in the Wheatbelt opened the Ballidu Bowling Club on Saturday for some much-needed reprieve for residents who were still cut off from power and phone lines.
Shire president Mandy Stephenson said she was trying to get in touch with community members.
“We still have some communities that are off at the moment, and we have some services that are available for them, we’re just trying to reach out because we [don’t have] phone signal at the moment,” she told ABC Radio Perth.
Tea, biscuits, air conditioning and power plugs were all on offer to residents who had been without power since Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s good for mental health, we need to check in and see how everyone is going and stick together,” she said.
Ms Stephenson also delivered fuel to Ballidu and Cadoux so residents who couldn’t get to their local supplier could fill their generators.
Locals claim outage rebate
It was too hot for Gary Paul, 70, to continue painting his patio once the blackout hit Kalgoorlie, so he got on his gopher and “zoomed around town”, seeing what was happening.
“At rocket speed, 15kph,” he said.
But there was not a lot open, he said, and he worried about how the elderly and people who live with disability were faring.
“They’ve all suffered at home, a lot of them can’t drive,” he said.
“We’ve had no internet, no phones, no triple-0.
“So those poor people they could be laying on the floor somewhere and no one knows what’s going on.”
He was relieved the Eastern Goldfields Community Centre eventually opened, for people to get together and to claim the $240 outage rebate.
“So we might get a carton of beer out of it and a Big Mac,” he said.