AN investigation will be launched by WA's new electricity regulator into the safety and reliability of power supply in rural regions following a heated meeting of angry Wheatbelt residents and Western Power representatives at Koorda last week.
Western Power staff came in for a two hour grilling from residents who spoke of power blackouts of up to 80 hours, unreliable supply, dangerous conditions and lost productivity due to power supply problems.
Residents told of power poles that had come down leaving power lines dangling at head height and other incidences of power poles being held up by rope and star pickets as well as lost foodstuffs from freezers that had defrosted due to power failures.
The principal engineer for electricity at the energy safety directorate, Doug Ayre, stressed to the meeting that if official, detailed complaints were submitted in writing, he would look into them "post haste".
"If Western Power needs to reinforce poles I'm wondering why something hasn't been done about it before now," he said.
Mr Ayre said that electricity suppliers were obliged to provide power to the Wheatbelt with no more than four blackouts a year and each one not lasting more than an hour.
Western Power asset manager Syd McDowell conceded that there was widespread problems with country power supply but stressed that overall WA had a good supply network compared to the other states.
"We have an above average network and it's significantly above other states but I can see that the Wheatbelt system does need improving and we are looking at cost effective ways of doing it."
"Power is expensive in outlying regions, it is an unfortunate fact of life, Western Power is required by law to act in a commercial manner, $200 million was paid in dividends to the government last year," he said.
Mr McDowell didn't win any friends at the meeting when he said that finding workers that were willing to come out to Koorda was a very difficult task.
Michael Bates, Chairman of the Wheatbelt Development Commission said that the meeting achieved its short term objective of making Western Power sit up and take notice but added that the long term objective was to make the government realise that power is worth more than the customer pays for it.
"Once you get over 160km from the generation point, power supply becomes unprofitable, this is why so many country towns are suffering these failures and aging infrastructure."
"15 or so years ago the power supply was adequate because it was only needed to power the bare necessities, now technology has ensured that power is needed to supply freezers, electric fences, shearing sheds and countless other things."
"It's not entirely Western Power's fault, it is up to the government to enforce community service obligations," he said.
The meeting ended with the motion being put forward that Western Power comply with the regulations of the Electricity (Supply Standards and System Safety) Regulations 2001 and was unanimously received.