On 9 March 2017, the Treasurer referred to the Essential Services Commission (Commission) an inquiry into the reliability and quality of electricity supply on Eyre Peninsula.  The inquiry was referred to the Commission pursuant to Part 7 of the Essential Services Commission Act 2002.

The Treasurer’s terms of reference for the inquiry require the Commission to examine prudent and efficient options for improving the reliability and quality of electricity supply to electricity customers on the Eyre Peninsula. They also require the Commission to establish and have regard to advice from an Inquiry reference group, consisting of representatives of Eyre Peninsula councils and other representatives as considered appropriate by the Commission.  Representatives of the Commission met with the Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association (EPLGA) on 27 February 2017 to commence consultation.  The EPLGA decided that the 11 Mayors and Chairs from across Eyre Peninsula will make up the reference group with Peter Scott from RDAWEP to be the central point of contact.

The Commission must submit an Inquiry draft report to the Treasurer by 31 May 2017, with a final report to be submitted by 6 October 2017.

Evidence of reliability performance

The Commission has been working closely with ElectraNet, SA Power Networks and various regulatory bodies during the Inquiry process to date.  Data provided by the network businesses show that reliability performance on the Eyre Peninsula was generally consistent between 2006/07 and 2015/16.  There has been a significant deterioration in performance during 2016/17, due to the severe weather events on 28 September 2016 and 23 December 2016.

The data also shows that reliability is poorest at towns supplied by long radial distribution feeders (remote from the transmission network).  Towns that have the poorest reliability outcomes (in terms of average annual minutes off supply) over the past 10 years include Elliston, Penong, Venus Bay and Cummins.  Towns that are located close to the transmission network typically receive better reliability of supply.

The data confirms that there are two different reliability problems that could be addressed:

  1.  Ongoing reliability problems at the distribution feeder level which are driven mainly by lightning strikes on radial distribution lines.
  2.  More recent reliability problems driven by severe weather events that mainly impacted transmission lines.

Survey evidence suggests that the biggest problem encountered by customers on the Eyre Peninsula during the 28 September 2016 state wide blackout was the loss of telecommunications services.

Evidence of quality of supply performance

ESCOSA has received anecdotal evidence of poor quality of supply in parts of the Eyre Peninsula, although SA Power Networks (SAPN) report that its complaints data suggests that there is no real problem.  SA Power Networks has reported that, during the 2006/07 to 2016/17 period, there has been 209 quality of supply enquiries and only 9 complaints.  There have been 12 proactive load and voltage tests by SA Power Networks over the 10 year period, with 9 requiring rectification at the distribution transformer level.  The Energy and Water Ombudsman SA has reported that it has received 20 cases from 8 March 2014 to 8 March 2017 relating to quality of supply on the Eyre Peninsula.

To report electricity faults and emergencies contact SAPN on 13 13 66.

To determine whether or not there is a systemic quality of supply problem, the Commission has discussed with SA Power Networks the possibility of putting voltage testing equipment at particular locations on the Eyre Peninsula.  SA Power Networks has confirmed that it can accommodate that request and Commission staff are now working with RDAWEP’s Peter Scott to identify suitable locations.  SA Power Networks requires a lead time of approximately 4 weeks to install the equipment.  The Office of the Technical Regulator will provide independent oversight of the testing process.

Options for improving reliability of supply

The Commission has received preliminary information on options for improving reliability of supply in the region from SA Power Networks, ElectraNet and Eye Energy, a Port Lincoln based provider of solar generation.  The Commission is liaising with those organisations to develop cost-benefit analyses of the various options, which will be discussed in the Commission’s draft report.

Regulatory implications

The Commission is also considering whether or not there are areas where the regulatory framework could be improved to deliver better planning and coordination of network and non-network solutions on the Eyre Peninsula.  Those requirements are important given the technological changes that are occurring in the electricity industry.

Next Steps

The Commission continues to prepare its draft report for submission to the Treasurer by 31 May 2017.  It will conduct a public consultation process in June/July, following release of the draft report.  ESCOSA will arrange meetings with the Reference Group and other interested stakeholders on the Eyre Peninsula at that time.

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