Town powered down

The Malmsbury hotel's David and Anda Gazzard lost a week's worth of trade due to extended power outages over summer. Photo: Kerrie Gleeson

Malmsbury business operators have suffered through an extraordinarily bad run of power outages this past summer.
On seven occasions since November, traders experienced power outages at some of their busiest trading times.
The outages have been the result of severe weather combined with the use of bushfire mitigation technology installed at electrical substations in areas of highest bushfire risk.
The worst two outages occurred on Friday January 31 with the power out from 7.30am to 5.30pm and on Friday February 14 with the power out from 2.30pm until 8pm, leaving businesses including the local pub unable to serve customers.
The Malmsbury hotel owner Anda Gazzard said it affected their trade immensely.
“We had to cancel dinner services and close the bar down, no one likes a pub with warm beer,” Anda said.
“Over the course of about five weeks, we effectively lost a week’s worth of trade because the outages occurred at our busiest times.
“Powercor couldn’t tell you how long it would be and on one occasion they said it wouldn’t be back on until 1am in the morning, so we made the call to close, sent staff home, and then found out that an hour later the power was back on again.”
‘Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters’ have been installed at substations including Castlemaine and Woodend and respond to faults detected on high-voltage powerlines by reducing voltage to nearly zero. If the fault persists for more than a few seconds, the line is de-energised.
On total fire ban days, REFCLs are set to their most sensitive settings and, if activated, the affected line has to be patrolled by Powercor personnel before it can be reenergised to avoid potential fire starts.
The business operators understand the need for bushfire mitigation measures but are frustrated at the length of time it has taken to detect and fix the faults over the past summer months.
Malmsbury Pharmacy owner Beshr Farid had to not only close his store but desperately try to save life-saving medicines.
“On top of losing trade was the issue of how to keep the medicines refrigerated safely, and if there’s no electricity I can’t dispense medicine either so it is very frustrating,” he said.
A Powercor spokesperson acknowledged there had been a number of outages in the Malmsbury region this summer but said their crews and control room had responded as quickly as possible to get the power back on.
“On total fire ban days, it can take longer to restore power as our crews must patrol the entire line,” he said.
“Restoration times displayed on the Powercor website and also sent via text message alert are the best available estimates at the time.
“These estimates can change for a variety of reasons, including when crews arrive at a job and assess it as being more complex than first thought.”

Malmsbury Pharmacy’s Beshr Farid had to try to save refrigerated medicines on multiple occasions. Photo: Kerrie Gleeson