Hundreds of Essential Energy’s power poles and associated electrical infrastructure in south-east NSW have been damaged due to bushfires and some will require a comprehensive rebuild when crews can gain access, leaving some customers without power into mid-January.

On New Year’s Eve, more than 37,000 customers were left without power as fires tore through south-east NSW, including the South Coast. Essential Energy crews were able to restore power to more than 25,000 customers by 4pm on 3 January. 

However the fire events over 4-5 January caused further damage, impacting the power supply to more than 35,000 customers down the South Coast and across parts of the Riverina.

Essential Energy has started patrolling lines and making repairs where safe to do so, but with 90 per cent of the network in designated bushfire zones, many locations are still not safe to access.

Luke Jenner, Essential Energy General Manager Customer and Network Services, said teams are working closely with the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) to gain access to fire-ravaged areas, with repairs having commenced where possible.

“The extent of the damage from these unprecedented fires is like nothing we have experienced before. The network has sustained extensive damage with some areas being completely destroyed and needing rebuilding,” Mr Jenner said.

“Over the past 24 hours we’ve reached parts of the network that have been inaccessible until now. This allowed us to restore power to 12,000 customers in Batemans Bay, Mossy Point and parts of Broulee and Tomakin yesterday, with 11,000 customers currently without power.”

Mr Jenner said that once crews can gain safe access and assess the extent of the damage, Essential Energy will be able to provide estimated times for when the power will be restored to customers. However, many customers will be without power into next week and some possibly longer.

“Our priority is safe, steady power restoration. It’s important we take the appropriate time to fully assess conditions, particularly hazard trees, and undertake any necessary work safely to minimise the risk of our people or members of the public being injured,” Mr Jenner said.

“Priority is given to critical services in bushfire-affected areas including hospitals, water pumping stations, nursing homes and petrol stations.”

Initial indications are that in excess of 500 poles have been destroyed by the fires. A significant amount of damage has also been caused to the underground power network in urban areas of Batemans Bay, where it is anticipated restoration will be complex and lengthy.

More than 320 personnel have been mobilised from across Essential Energy’s footprint to assist local teams with network repairs and power restoration. Additional specialist personnel have also been deployed to minimise the impact of hazardous trees and the active threat they pose on the electricity network.

Depot Hubs have been set up in Moruya, Bega, Albury and Tumut to provide support and logistics, including safety leadership, design and planning, on-the-ground fleet management, and ensuring all crews are appropriately supported.

Mr Jenner said Essential Energy leaders are located in the EOCs (Emergency Operational Centres), partnering with the RFS and other emergency services and authorities to ensure safe access into impacted areas to assess the network damage.

“I am confident we have the resources and capability to safely make repairs and rebuild the network to get the power back on to customers. We will work as quickly as safety will allow,” Mr Jenner said.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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