SA Power Networks was ordered on Wednesday night to restore electricity to about 40,000 households and businesses after supplies were deliberately cut amid soaring temperatures.
Power to customers across the state was switched off from 6.33pm under “rotational load shedding’’ orders from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) “due to lack of available generation supply in SA”, SA Power Networks said.
About 45 minutes later electricity was restored after SA Power Networks announced that AEMO had ordered it to return supply.
“AEMO has called an end to load shedding, we are restoring power,’’ the supplier said.
As customers reacted with outrage, the blame game immediately began.
State Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said: “Every South Australian has a right to be angry. We had spare capacity in the SA generation market and the market didn’t turn that generation on.”
“The second unit at Pelican Point (power station) could’ve been turned on last night, it had gas, was ready to go and it wasn’t turned on. The national market isn’t working,” he said.
“We (the State Government) have been taking advice from the market operator and others but after last night we have to reassess. We will do what’s necessary to make sure SA has sufficient generation,” Mr Koutsantonis said.
“It’s my understanding that AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) was made aware more generation was available and chose not to turn that generation on. Serious question have to be asked about why we had generation available that wasn’t used.”
The temperature was still above 40C when the rolling blackouts began at 6.33pm to conserve power supplies as homeowners used airconditioners for relief from the heat.
SA’s power reliability will again be under scrutiny given a series of major blackouts, including a statewide failure in September.
An SA Power Networks spokesman said they were acting on instructions from AEMO in response to insufficient generation supply in SA.
“We don’t generate,” he said. “This is not an SA Power Networks issue — we are the muggins in the middle between the customer and generation supply.”
SA Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham said it was “yet another example that the South Australian Government can’t keep the lights on”.
“It’s a chronic failing that can only hurt investment confidence in the state,” Mr Birmingham said.
“It’s a demonstration that ad hoc state-based renewable energy targets have gone too far — when reliability can’t be maintained on a day the likes of which SA faces numerous times every single summer.”
Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the blackout “is yet another example of Jay Weatherill’s failed experiment”.
The Pelican Point power station, which the Government said could have been turned on.
“Because of the lack of base load generation there literally wasn’t enough electricity being produced to power the state,” he said.
“It’s time Labor both federally and at a state level recognised its high renewable energy targets are putting at risk energy security and affordability.”
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) issued a statement, saying at 6.33pm on Wednesday “approximately 100 megawatts (MW) of local load shedding was instructed in South Australia to maintain the security of the power system.”
It said “load shedding” — affecting about 40,000 homes and businesses — was “instructed by AEMO to avoid damage to network equipment due to potential overloading.”
At 7pm AEMO gave permission to restore the 100 MW of load, and at about 7.10pm electricity supply had been restored.
Mr Koutsantonis said it was “my understanding that AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) was made aware more generation was available and chose not to turn that generation on.”
“There were issues during the September blackout where AEMO wasn’t aware of the severe winds but you just needed to turn the TV on to find out how hot it was.”
He rejected suggestions that repeated blackouts had turned SA into a national joke, saying: “It makes the National Energy Market look like a joke. We (the State Government) have been taking advice from the market operator and others but after last night we have to reassess. We (the Government) will do what’s necessary to make sure SA has sufficient generation.”
Jane Govey, 43, owner of The Bridge Hotel at Langhorne Creek, said she once again had to turn away paying customers, describing the latest blackout as totally “ridiculous”.
“We had 20 in for dinner and probably turned another 15, or 20 away. If this had been the only power outage I’d probably not be quite so upset but this is the fourth one in three months that we’ve had,” she said.
“We’re now looking at upgrading our switchboards to put generators in.
“It costs a small fortune but hotels that put generators in don’t have the problems.
“It’s a pretty sad state of affairs in a first-world country ... we lived in the UK for 16 years and came back three years ago. I never experienced a power outage like this in the UK.”
Angry customers who lost power on dinner time took to social media to express their outrage with the electricity system. They also noted that, yet again, businesses were losing money due to uncertain electricity supplies.
“Henley Beach Pizza shop usually packed at 8:30pm ... tonight closed due to blackouts,” Tim Yeatman tweeted.
The public also took full advantage of Premier Jay Weatherill’s “Q & Jay” life Facebook session on Wednesday night, with critical comments pouring in.
Among them Anthony Hunter wrote: “Here’s a question, why are we having load-shedding power cuts right at this moment, when it’s only one day of hot weather.
“Surely the hottest state in Australia can handle one day of heat?”
Meanwhile, Adelaide’s searing temperatures this week have been made even more uncomfortable by Darwin-like humidity levels.
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Matt Collopy said a wet couple of days at the start of the week has contributed to the humidity, along with a monsoon over the northern parts of Australia that is currently active.
“We’ve seen that continued drawing down of that almost tropical moisture across parts of SA and that is also contributing to the high humidity we’re seeing during this heat event,” he said.
At 6am on Tuesday both Adelaide and Darwin had a relative humidity level of 84 per cent.
They also reached the same relative humidity level three times on Sunday.
Mr Collopy said although Darwin, which is in its wet season, still had a higher relative humidity on average — the conditions were unusual for summer in South Australia.
“There was one day in (the last week of January) where we were basically 100 per cent humidity at 9am,” Mr Collopy said.
Heatwave warning for SA residents
The humidity is a result of high rainfall and tropical moisture, as the Indian Ocean Dipole breaks down and ocean temperatures off the north west coast of WA remain warmer than average.
“We haven’t really got a strong climate driver but still have a very strong wet signal,” he said.
It has kept fire conditions out of the severe range, however surgeries at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital could be moved to the Royal Adelaide Hospital if the humidity creates airconditioning issues.
SA Health chief medical officer Paddy Phillips said humidity reduces the body’s ability to cool down.
He said people should put their health first, before attempting to save a couple of dollars on electricity, by not running fans and airconditioners to keep cool.
On Wednesday the mercury soared from 27.5C at 6am in Adelaide to 42.4C by 5pm, while Moomba — the hottest town in SA — reached 46.6C just after 4pm.
Ceduna, also recorded 45.3C — 17 degrees above average for February.
Roxby Downs mother Lianne Crowther, 30, is a member of the pony club where they have also been trying to keep the horses cool.
She put her daughter Olivia-Lei, 2, and friend Grace Moore, 3, in buckets of water to keep them cool while they tended to the animals.
“It’s just so hot out there and it's the only way to keep the girls occupied,” she said.
“Grace loved it. We also put them in another trough as well.”
Mr Collopy said very hot and very humid conditions were expected until Saturday.
Thursday in Adelaide is still forecast to be 41C, Friday is expected to be 39C, and Saturday 37C — with minimum overnight temperatures between 23-24C.
A southerly wind will reach the state’s southern coastal towns on Thursday, however Adelaide will not feel that change until Saturday evening.
“Temperatures will be dropping back into the mid-20s by the time you get through to Sunday and Monday,” Mr Collopy said.