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ETU Media Releases

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Tathra fires: Government and power regulator may have questions to answer on network funding cuts

Paul Lister - Thursday, March 22, 2018

The NSW RFS preliminary investigation into the Tathra bushfires is expected to be released today and if, as anticipated, the NSW Government owned Essential Energy is identified as a possible ignition source the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and NSW Government will have serious questions to answer following massive power line maintenance funding cuts.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) today called on the Australian Energy Regulator and NSW Government to explain massive maintenance funding cuts which the union believes has the potential to impact on public safety across NSW.

“If, as anticipated, the initial report by the RFS finds Essential Energy assets played a part in starting the Tathra fire, the Australian Energy Regulator and the State Government as the owners of Essential Energy have a moral oibligation to explain how their massive maintenance funding cuts may be placing the public at serious risk.” said Justin Page ETU NSW Assistant Secretary.

“The NSW Government has been focused on cutting costs at Essential Energy including slashing maintenance and capital works expenditure while at the same time maximising profit,”

“The NSW Government as owner of this aging and complex network and the Australian Energy Regulator should be focused on safety and reliability ahead of cost cutting which is not currently the case leading to potential impacts on network reliability and public safety.” said Mr Page

“If electricity infrastructure is identified as a possible ignition source we believe the upcoming Keelty Inquiry into the disaster at Tathra must look at these significant and underlying structural issues given their potential to impact on public safety.”

“Our thoughts are with the people of Tathra that have been impacted by this tragic event and we believe they deserve answers if today’s RFS report finds that electricity infrastructure was the ignition source of this fire."

In its own documents Essential Energy admits that it has shifted from an “Asset Maintenance” to an “Asset management” methodology while over the past seven years Essential Energy has sacked 1,700 employees representing almost 40% of its workforce.

Essential Energy has also massively underspent on it’s operating expenditure budget to the tune of $129 million in 217 and they have slashed capital expenditure by 38% since 2012 as a result of the Australian Energy Regulator limiting how much the company can spend.

Conversely, profit, net profit and distributions to the state Government have grown significantly in recent years.

“These numbers paint a compelling picture; the Regulator, the business and the NSW Government have combined to create a situation where the workforce has been cut to the bone and maintenance and safety work which any reasonable people would consider critical has also been cut back.”

Thousands of NSW residents face blackouts as forecast electricity demand surges ahead of supply

Paul Lister - Thursday, February 09, 2017
Thousands of NSW power consumers may be forced to endure blackouts this afternoon after the national electricity market operator warned of a looming power shortage as heatwave conditions cause demand to far outstrip supply.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has issued a warning that between 3pm and 5.30pm this afternoon NSW faces a shortfall of 419 megawatts of power even after importing large amounts of electricity from neighboring Victoria and Queensland.

Unless additional generating capacity can be found, AEMO may be forced to repeat the load shedding order that saw 90,000 homes in South Australia have their power supplies cut earlier this week.

The Electrical Trades Union said the NSW Liberals and Nationals were directly responsible for this looming power crisis as a result of the privatisation of electricity generating assets in 2014.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley highlighted the case of Wallerawang power station, near Lithgow, which was previously capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of baseload power but was closed down shortly after being purchased by Chinese-owned company Energy Australia.

“In 2014, the NSW Liberals and Nationals privatised our state’s publicly owned power stations,” Mr McKinley said.

“One of the first actions of these new private owners was to close Wallerawang, resulting in a substantial reduction to available electricity supplies and severely limiting the state’s ability to meet peak demand.

“If Wallerawang was still operating today, we would not be facing the load shedding and forced power blackouts that the national energy market operator is forecasting.

“The Liberals and Nationals told everyone that electricity privatisation would mean lower power prices and better services, but what we are likely to see today is the clearest possible evidence that the people of NSW were lied to.

“Electricity is an essential service, but when profit-hungry foreign investors take control of our public assets, they put their own interests ahead of the people of NSW, with consumers left to pay the price.

“South Australia is currently facing the same problem, with a lack of investment by the private sector in new base load electricity generation meaning higher prices for consumers and reduced reliability during times of high demand.

“We are now facing the potential for an east coast power crisis because privatisation has failed to deliver the promised outcomes.

“The current challenges in NSW have nothing to do with renewable energy generation and everything to do with private companies exploiting their power in a monopoly market while the people of NSW and South Australia are left to sweat it out.”



SOURCE: Australian Energy Market Operator forecast evening of 9 February - NSW 418MW undersupply or equivalent to 400,000 homes, https://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/National-Electricity-Market-NEM/Data-dashboard#operational-demand