WA Premier Roger Cook commits to replacing aging Kalgoorlie-Boulder back-up generators after blackout

Western Australia’s premier has promised Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s power supply will be “more reliable” in the future, after committing to replace two aging gas turbines that failed during widespread blackouts last week.

Premier Roger Cook was in the WA Goldfields on Thursday for the first time since storms knocked out the 220-kilovolt transmission line that connected Kalgoorlie to Synergy’s Muja power station near Collie. 

The subsequent failure of the gas-fired generators, meant to provide backup power, left thousands of homes across the mining city blacked out and local fuel supplies exhausted as temperatures soared past 40 degrees Celsius.

Mr Cook said the “freak weather event” brought down five large transmission towers, which he said had occurred for the first time in 35 years.  

Western Power deployed more than 700 workers as part of restoration efforts but repairs were not expected to be completed on the Kalgoorlie transmission line until next week.  

Kalgoorlie’s power network is currently islanded, which means energy is disconnected from the wider grid and provided through a combination of Western Power assets, Synergy’s back-up generators and the privately-owned Parkeston power station near Kalgoorlie.

The Synergy generators are comprised of two gas turbines, which have been used for Kalgoorlie’s back-up power supply since the 1980s. 

The Parkeston power station is jointly owned by TransAlta and gold miner Northern Star Resources.(ABC Goldfields: Robert Koenig-Luck)

Tender process to begin

While he said the cause of the failure was still being investigated, Mr Cook today committed to replacing old infrastructure at Kalgoorlie. 

But he could not say when new generators would be operational to “strengthen the network”.

“The new generators will be sourced through a tender process and will be brought online as soon as possible,” he said.

“This will deliver the short and medium term resilience that we need in Kalgoorlie, while we work towards a longer term renewable energy future with solar, wind and battery storage energy solutions.”  

Kalgoorlie-Boulder is on the edge of the power grid, known as the South West Interconnected System.(Supplied: Infrastructure Australia)

Restoration nearly complete

During the peak of the blackout, more than 31,500 homes and businesses were without power across the Perth Hills, Wheatbelt and the Goldfields.  

That number is now fewer than 100 customers in the Wheatbelt region and they are expected to have services restored later Thursday.  

Mr Cook said the old generators at Kalgoorlie were due for replacement and the new technology would have “black start capability”.

Transmission towers on the Western Power network were severely damaged in storms.(Supplied: Western Power)

“There was no electrons in the network at all, so when these generators were brought back on they immediately tripped because the demand on them was so immense,” he said.  

“The expectation was that those generators would be able to do what’s called a black start, which means they could push electrons into the system to get the system back up and running.

“Now that didn’t happen and so we need to understand why that didn’t occur, and to make sure we now have the investments in place so it doesn’t happen again in the future.”  

Mr Cook said while there was a short-term solution for Kalgoorlie, there was no quick fix for the Wheatbelt due to the spread-out nature of communities. 

“Every community needs its own solutions,” he said.

He added that telecommunication issues also needed to be addressed.

An aerial view of Western Power’s substation in West Kalgoorlie.(Supplied: Western Power)

Compensation a ‘drop in the ocean’

Mr Cook made today’s announcement about new backup generators at a press conference inside a Kalgoorlie hair salon owned by Anne-Marie Ryan, who said she lost about $8,000 due to the blackouts.

“That was comparatively low to a lot of other businesses … and for small businesses that’s going to take a long time to recoup the losses,” she said. 

Kalgoorlie’s Anne-Marie Ryan (right) speaks with Premier Roger Cook and Kalgoorlie MLA Ali Kent.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

She described the government payments as “a drop in the ocean” and, in her opinion, “not enough”.  

“The broader community has experienced huge losses,” Ms Ryan said.   

“I don’t know how many more outages small businesses can take.”

The premier confirmed there had been more than 17,000 applications for extended outage payments through Western Power, but could not commit to additional compensation for small businesses after the WA opposition labelled $240-payments as “inadequate”. 

Premier Roger Cook speaks to Leslie Haythornthwaite (seated) at the hair salon, Ahead of Time.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

Looking towards renewables

City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mayor Glenn Wilson welcomed the investment in new backup generators, describing it as a crucial first step in revolutionising the city’s power grid through renewable sources.

Mayor Glenn Wilson said the city’s power infrastructure was long overdue for upgrades.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

“The technology we have in those generators is over 40 years old … it’s starting to show grey hairs like me,” he said.  

“The future energy options and the resilience of the network is a work in progress and we’re very excited to see some of that work going on at the moment.” 

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