Farmers question value for money behind Western Power’s push for standalone power systems – ABC News

4 minutes, 8 seconds Read

Farmers say standalone power systems (SPS) being rolled out by Western Australia’s state-owned power generator are delivering an inferior service and are a poor use of taxpayer funds. 

Western Power has installed 194 of the systems, which include a solar-charged battery bank and a diesel generator, to service homes and farm businesses in regional WA.

The utility provider plans to install up to 4,000 units in the coming decade, which will enable it to decommission 15,000 kilometres of overhead power lines.

The rollout also comes amid years of power supply issues across the Wheatbelt, where regular outages have cost residents and businesses tens of thousands of dollars.

Late last year, Morawa farmer Lindsay Chappel was advised he would receive an SPS at his property between Three Springs and Morawa, 300km north of Perth.

Farmer Lindsay Chappel says installing an SPS is unnecessary at his property near Morawa.(Supplied: Lindsay Chappel)

He did not want the system and said installing one at his location was ridiculous.

“The property that we are talking about is about 700 metres from the three-phase powerline that runs from Three Springs to Latham,” Mr Chappel said.

“We rarely have issues with power outages and I don’t think there is any need for this.

“As I understand it, the systems don’t supply enough power. You have got to moderate your power usage, and in running a business I expect the full 10 [kVA, or kilovolt amperes] dispatchable power at any stage.”

Users find mixed results

A man poses beside a ground-mounted solar array

Wheatbelt farmer Dylan Hirsch with the SPS installed at his property.(Supplied: Dylan Hirsch)

Further east at Bunjil, Dylan Hirsch has been mostly happy with the SPS installed at his family’s main homestead and workshop a little over two years ago.

“Although we’ve had an overall positive experience because it has been better than the grid, there are some users out there who seem to have had a step backwards,” he said.

Mr Hirsch said drawing too much power overloaded the SPS, tripping a circuit breaker switch.

But unlike a standard meter box, the customer is not permitted to turn the system back on.

“We have to contact Western Power, who arrange for a local electrician to come out and do that for us,” Mr Hirsch said.

For him, the process takes between one and six hours, but the duration of outages varies and, for some customers, the system is overloaded several times a week, which costs valuable time.

“Although we do respect safety, it feels like it’s a pretty condescending response when there are certainly engineering solutions that would make it easier for us and easier for them in the long run,” Mr Hirsch said.

“It’s a costly exercise for them to be getting an electrician just to come out to reset the unit.”

farmers and sheep in front of a solar system

Western Power claims its SPS is safer, more reliable, has fewer outages, and generates 90 per cent of its energy from the sun.(Supplied: Western Power)

Feedback noted

Western Power said staff were continually working to enhance and improve the SPS product by listening to customers to ensure units were meeting needs.

The utility said due to the location of the SPS sites and mobilisation time of technicians from Perth, SPS outages had a longer duration than the average grid-connected rural customer outage.

“When faults do occur we recognise the impact these outages have on our customers,” a spokesperson said.

“We are investigating auto-resetting options and implementing design enhancements which will reduce the need to send personnel when there is an overload.”

Going it alone

Western Power said standalone systems cost approximately $200,000 each.

Private systems cost roughly half that amount, and Mr Hirsch thinks some customers would like the opportunity to be compensated for disconnecting from the grid and paying for their own system.

“I do think it would be better off for Western Power to be able to offer some sort of subsidy so they’re not responsible for the big capital cost in installing these systems,” Mr Hirsch said.

On the other hand, Mr Chappel remembered when electricity lines were first connected to the family farm when he was a child in the late 1960s.

“When we had the [government] put the reticulated power through, we thought we had joined the modern world. It was great,” he said. 

He was worried the new systems would mark the end of state-supplied electricity. 

“I fear when these power systems reach the end of their life, which by any measure could be 20 years, that will be it,” Mr Chappel said.

“They won’t be replaced and the government of the day will say: ‘Well, you are on your own. You either supply your own power or you move to town.'”


Get our local newsletter, delivered free each Thursday

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

Similar Posts