(OT?) Australia - Victorian - More cuts after a day of chaos

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More cuts after a day of chaos

VICTORIA faces another day of blackouts and scorching heat with power cuts plunging the state into chaos.

Soaring temperatures, strike action and a spate of generator breakdowns left 386,000 homes and a million people without power as electricity was rationed yesterday. The wave of snap blackouts rolled across about 100 suburbs and country towns and more cuts are on the way with today's temperature expected to hit 39deg.

Victorians are being asked to turn off air conditioners, dishwashers, video recorders, swimming pool filters and reduce lighting and hot water usage.

The government is ready to use emergency laws to force home appliances to be shut down.

It has ordered union peace talks as repairs were last night under way on damaged power generators.

The desperate moves  which would hit electricity cheats with $10,000 fines  follow a day of drama when 400 sets of traffic lights went out of action, causing massive road snarls.

Dozens of Melbourne workers were locked in city lifts and hundreds were treated for heat exhaustion in hospitals.

Schools closed early and parents have been told they may keep their children home today.

Yallourn Energy, which produces one fifth of Victoria's power, has been out of action for three weeks and breakdowns at Hazelwood and Loy Yang B left supply well below demand yesterday.

Despite power unions and Yallourn Energy agreeing to face-to-face talks today and Hazelwood expected to have a damaged generator repaired overnight, the progress is unlikely to avert today's crisis.

The government has charged former Labor minister Neil Pope with negotiating a deal between the parties, who have been in dispute for 10 months over rostering and the use of private contractors.

Premier Steve Bracks arrived back from Europe to find Melbourne in turmoil last night.

He said he found the situation unacceptable and his government would do everything it could to restore full power.

"It's been going on a long time when we are having very hot temperatures and the unforeseen events of the generators going down makes it worse," he said.

He warned unions and industry that if mediation was unsuccessful strong action would be taken.

Earlier, acting Premier John Thwaites played down chances of a quick breakthrough.

"We have had to act creatively to try to bring the parties together ... but you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

The rolling cuts, which led to clusters of 500 to 2000 houses blacked out for two hours at a time, came after Victoria experienced a 15 per cent electricity shortfall.

The only warning householders received was a 10-second blackout about five minutes before their supply was interrupted.

Most businesses were spared yesterday, but could face cuts if the shortage continues.

People on life-support systems have been warned to use battery back-up and make arrangements for hospital care if needed.

Electrical Trades Union state secretary Dean Mighell said the parties were miles apart and labelled the lockout a return to 1890s industrial tactics.

"The company is threatening to lock out the entire workforce  so if there's no power they have to wear it," he said.

Mr Mighell said talks must focus on the use of contractors before progress would be made.

"That underpins our concerns on job security for our members. If we don't get agreement on that we haven't got agreement on anything," he said.

Yallourn Energy chief Mike Johnston said the company would lock out workers from midnight, Monday, unless the impasse was broken.

He said the company was deeply concerned that after 10 months of talks with six unions it had failed to settle any claims.

"We are very pleased with the government's initiative to bring the parties together for mediation."

Power generation has been out at Yallourn's La Trobe plant for 23 days and Mr Johnston said the company was reviewing a $500 million expansion. "This is costing us a great deal of money," he said.

Even in the event of a surprise breakthrough, both parties said it would take five days to restore full power output at Yallourn.


Last night on TV interview a representative of the power utility multi-national that owns and runs power generation etc. threatened to take shareholders funds overseas to a better investment climate....

Regards from a sweltering OZ

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), February 03, 2000


"The government is ready to use emergency laws to force home appliances to be shut down."

Zounds! Sounds bad, Pieter.

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), February 03, 2000.

Quick, which is worse -- a power outage when it's sweltering hot, or a power outage when it's 40 below with two feet of snow on the ground...?

I guess you can tell it's winter where we are.

-- feeling sorry (for@the.auzzies), February 03, 2000.

Cascadians "The government is ready to use emergency laws to force home appliances to be shut down." Yeah, like they did in the gas crisis a year ago. Toothless tigers. They're apathetic but hey, who cares?

-- Perilous Pauline from Victoria (Australia) (paulinej@angliss.vic.edu.au), February 03, 2000.

Perilous Pauline,
hehe...very good...apathetic, but who cares? Hehe...

The real story I hinted at in my comment observation. A multi- national company recently acquired the power utilities of Victoria with an intention to long term infrastructure improvements. This situation is showing a cooling of their resolve to that commitment. Bad news for long term rural infrastructure and development outside of urban Australia. Economic Rationalism anyone?

Regards from Down Under

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), February 03, 2000.

Victorian News Update

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), February 03, 2000.

Australia has been having a rough time of late, it seems. But it couldn't have anything to do with the date change thing--what do you call it?

-- Mara (MaraWayne@aol.com), February 03, 2000.

Pieter, tremendous amount of utility mergers and acquisitions here too. What is the name of that multinational BTW? Does it happen to have a yank owner named O'Neal? Keep yer cattle well watered! Hope they have a bit of shade to lie down under. Yourself as well lad. Take care and stay cool.

-- William Wallace (braveheart@highlands.com), February 03, 2000.

and why the "spate of generator breakdowns"?

-- Why (why@whynot.com), February 03, 2000.

Horrible news Pieter. We were expecting these sorts of problems all over the states too, and have been fortunate so far, as you know. But all of us here have certainly spent some time worryin' and thinkin' about coping with power losses. The more we plan, the more details we realise we forgot to take into account! Heart goes out to you folks.

-- Hokie (Hokie_@hotmail.com), February 03, 2000.

"Yallourn Energy, which produces one fifth of Victoria's power, has been out of action for three weeks" ... "Power generation has been out at Yallourn's La Trobe plant for 23 days".

All because of a union dispute? Someone please help me understand this.

-- I'm off to see the (blizzard@of.oz), February 03, 2000.

G'Day blizzard & co.,
The maintenance workers, all 60 odd, decided to strike on January 10, shutting down 20% of Victoria's power generation since. Stressing out some other generators meant their failures too, including Torrens Island in South Australia. Before rollover testing of Torrens Island and substations at Bordertown knocked out the whole of South Australia twice. None of this was Y2K related we're told, but on the ground gossip has it that computer failure played a part.

To understand this is beyond mortal man, but Australia's Federal government is passionate about economic rationalism, enterprise bargaining and workplace employment agreements etc. The new rules by which everybody now plays is so convoluted that the power fails because the multinational British company that owns it reckons on pummelling union power. Meantime unions reckon on challenging. The poor bloody joe bloggs on civvy street cops it. Don't they always?

So don't worry. A pantheon of angels wouldn't be able figure it out either.

Sweltering Down Under

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), February 04, 2000.

Excerpt from the Australian Financial Review

"Power supplies were further constrained by the failure of two units at the Hazelwood power station and a two-hour failure of one unit at the Loy Yang generator. There was also an outage at SA's Torrens Island generator."

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), February 04, 2000.

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