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Western Power is gearing up for works on the Western Australian energy network, with maintenance planned for Synergy’s two gas turbine generators at Mungarra; and 12,732 insulators to be treated by helicopter on long power lines. 

The gas turbine generators at Mungarra act as a backup power supply for Geraldton and surrounds, and can be used as a backup power supply for significant planned or unplanned outages on Western Power’s network, by islanding the area from the main network.

Islanding is an approach commonly used to ensure continued power supply to communities while network infrastructure upgrades and maintenance is undertaken.

Western Power has successfully used this approach for several years to avoid large scale outages, including after Cyclone Seroja where Mid West customers were islanded while repair and recovery works were underway.

Synergy is undertaking essential upgrades on the two generators during October, including preventative maintenance, to improve their reliability for the community and industry.

Western Power’s Acting Executive Manager of Asset Management, Craig Julian, said that while this work was underway it was important to be prepared, as the risk remained of a fault occurring on the network which could result in an outage.

“In the event of any unforeseen issues or a fault on the main feeder line causing an outage during the maintenance work on the generators, local crews in the Geraldton and Three Springs area will respond to minimise the impact on the community. Specialist crews can also be deployed if necessary,” Mr Julian said.

“It’s important for people to be prepared should any potential outage affect them – such as making sure medical equipment, computers and phone batteries are charged.”

Mr Julian said that during unplanned outages, Western Power communicates with impacted customers and stakeholders via SMS and if the outage is significant in duration and the number of customers impacted, it uses additional communications channels such as radio.

“Earlier this year, Western Power completed essential network renewal and upgrade work in the area to improve network resilience, with no impact to customers.”

“As part of our network renewal and maintenance program, we continually identify and replace infrastructure and assets as they age or that have been identified as needing replacing.”

Part of Western Power’s ongoing maintenance program of the distribution network, other works include live line washing and siliconing of insulators, which will be undertaken over the next nine months.

Assets to be treated are situated in the City of Greater Geraldton, and the Shires of Irwin, Mingenew, Broomehill-Tambellup, Gnowangerup, Jerramungup, Katanning, Kent, Lake Grace, Kent, and Ravensthorpe.

Western Power has engaged airborne electrical services specialists Aeropower to carry out the live line washing and siliconing, following a successful trial undertaken in 2022 and rollout of the first round earlier in 2023.

Washing and siliconing helps prevent network damage by reducing the risk of pole top fires, which can occur during light drizzling rain or misty damp conditions when a combination of recent dust and pollution builds up to create paths or ‘tracks’ on the insulators, enabling electricity to jump across.

This tracking electricity can heat elements of the pole infrastructure to a point where they smoulder and burn, leading to faults and resulting power outages.

Western Power Executive Manager Asset Operations, Zane Christmas, said the washing and siliconing program could help in areas where pollution, such as sea salt in coastal areas or dust during harvest periods, can impact infrastructure.

“We have a comprehensive program in place to mitigate the risk of pole top fires including insulator replacements, as well as high-pressure washing of insulators, and siliconing,” Mr Christmas said.

“Now that we’ve established a safe and efficient way of washing live distribution lines using helicopters, we’ve engaged Aeropower to treat more than 12,700 insulators across the South West Interconnected Network (SWIN).

“The work is undertaken in two phases. In phase one, insulators are sprayed with demineralised water, and in phase two the helicopter returns to apply the silicone.”

Mr Christmas said the works were expected to be completed by June 2024.

“We’ll be in touch with communities, so they are aware of the works being undertaken in their area.” 

This maintenance work is in addition to the ongoing transmission line patrols which are regularly undertaken across the SWIN.

Western Power has said that its priority is to safely meet the energy needs of its customers, and that this work ensures the network is as resilient as possible.

Featured image: A helicopter performing line washing maintenance. Image credit: Western Power.

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