10 May 2023

Power outages as record heatwave hits the Cape

| Sarah Martin
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IT was a hot and frustrating week for Cape York residents and Ergon Energy crews, with record temperatures and multiple power outages impacting the region.

At Weipa, the mercury hit 40 degrees on Saturday for the first time in recorded history, with gauges measuring 40.4 at both the airport and RAAF Scherger.

It was hotter at Kowanyama on Thursday, with locals suffering through 40.8 degree weather.

Hot weather and power outages usually go hand in hand and several communities copped long periods without air conditioning.

Mapoon sweltered for 24 hours without power while Ergon personnel completed the painstaking fault-finding process.

An Ergon spokeswoman said Ergon’s network was protected with a safety-switch style system that could be tripped by any accidental contact such as lightning, branches or animals.

“When the cause and location of the fault isn’t clear, crews patrol from the bulk supply point and work their way to the end of the line,” she said.

“Sometimes the fault is really obvious, other times it can be kilometres before they find it.”

On Wednesday, more than 800 people from Cooktown, Endeavour Valley and Hope Vale were powerless overnight in 37-degree heat following a storm, with Ergon crews racing from Laura to Cooktown to repair the fault by 6pm.

“However circuit breakers tripped again and the restoration process continued through the night, with crews patrolling from the Cooktown substation to the end of the line at Hope Vale,” the spokeswoman said.

“As crews finished checking each section of the feeder, power was progressively restored where it was safe to do so.”

Power was restored to the last 37 customers at the end of the line at Hope Vale at 5am on Thursday.

“We understand any power outage is frustrating, especially in the heat, but our crews are out there working to fix the problem and get the aircons back on,” Ergon’s spokeswoman said.

“Keeping everyone safe is always their top priority, so the community’s patience and support is always much appreciated.”

The spokeswoman said relief was short-lived, with a Railway Avenue resident reporting the power out at their property on Thursday morning, with the fault found to be lightning burnt high voltage equipment.

“It’s not clear if this damage caused the earlier outage or was unrelated,” she said.

“For safety, at 8.41am, we had to interrupt power to 369 customers so crews could do emergency repairs, with power restored by 3.30pm.”

The spokeswoman urged customers to be prepared for storm season and encouraged businesses to consider their power needs in the event of an outage as Ergon did not have a standby power supply in the Cooktown or Hope Vale areas.

“In the event of a natural disaster we can deploy mobile generation for strategic locations to support critical sites like water and sewerage treatment facilities and hospitals, but we do not have standby generation in Cooktown or Hope Vale,” she said.

Mareeba and Cairns Ergon crews have been supporting Cooktown-based staff to undertake major upgrades and maintenance at Lakeland and Cooktown, but the spokeswoman said no network was completely storm-proof.

To report faults, phone Ergon on 13 22 96.

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