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Kalbarri businesses at odds over effectiveness of microgrid power back-up

Jessica MoroneyMidwest Times
The Kalbarri microgrid is aimed at shoring up the town's currently unreliable power network.
Camera IconThe Kalbarri microgrid is aimed at shoring up the town's currently unreliable power network. Credit: Supplied / Western Power/Western Power

While Western Power says the Kalbarri microgrid has prevented more than 100 hours of power outages since February, a holiday park owner believes it’s only a ‘Band-Aid fix’ that won’t solve the town’s infrastructure issues.

Kalbarri’s electricity is supplied by a 140km feeder that runs from Geraldton, which is known to experience outages due to the length and remoteness of the feeder being exposed to environmental elements.

In February, Western Power launched Australia’s largest microgrid, aimed at providing stronger power reliability and reducing the number of outages in Kalbarri.

The microgrid allows power to be drawn directly from renewable energy sources, including a Synergy windfarm and solar panels from homes and businesses.

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Small offices have noticed a difference, but large businesses heavily reliant on power been more critical, calling for an end to ongoing struggles.

Ray White officer Loni Bisser said before the microgrid, Kalbarri’s power outages were “horrible” and businesses had to wait for assistance from Geraldton before power could be restored.

She said with the microgrid, employers don’t have to leave work as the swap to renewable energy from the grid went unnoticed.

“Nine times out of 10, it’s not even enough to shut the computers off,” she said.

“It’s better than what it was in the day, as soon as you saw a bit of moisture in the air you would get the generators ready.”

But Kalbarri Tudor Holiday Park owner Brad Carey said the grid was an unpleasant experience that didn’t fix the town’s infrastructure, and the government’s treatment towards Kalbarri post-cyclone Seroja was “terrible”.

“The infrastructure is a disgrace in Kalbarri, the microgrid doesn’t fix the issue — it’s just a Band-Aid fix. You’d get better in a Third World country,” he said.

Mr Carey said in the past six to nine months he’s had up to two dozen outages and wasn’t compensated for spoiled stock unless the power was out for more than 12 hours.

“We’re running a tourist facility and primarily a park for young families. If we have no power, how do they bath their kids and cook their food?” he said.

“I’d like the government to put their hand in their pocket and fix Kalbarri’s infrastructure,” he said.

A Western Power spokesperson said although faults and resulting power outages still occurred, the microgrid resulted in fewer, and much shorter, outages.

“In the event of fault along the main feeder line which affects power supply to Kalbarri, the microgrid maintains power supply to the community by using solar and wind, and stored energy in the battery,” they said.

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