Friday 2 December 2011

Maintenance glitch blacks out thousands in Cairns

Michael Serenc
Friday, December 2, 2011
© The Cairns Post

AN unexpected maintenance glitch, and not undue pressure on the power grid, has been blamed for a blackout that cut electricity to 80,000 customers across Cairns on the first day of summer.

Residents and drivers were caught by surprise yesterday as traffic lights, shopping centres, homes and health facilities lost power just before 11am. Electricity was restored by 11.45am, but not before emergency services and back-up generators were called on to stem potential mayhem city-wide.

Cairns’ bulk power supplier, Powerlink, said an electrical fault during maintenance work at its Woree substation caused the mass outage. Powerlink chief Simon Bartlett said it was a rare combination of events and the company was confident that its supply of bulk electricity to Cairns would be reliable during the coming storm season. Staff and patients were evacuated from a medical imaging centre on Lake St as fire crews searched the building after a fire alarm sounded.

But firefighters discovered the alarm was falsely triggered only because back-up generators had started in the building and people were eventually cleared to go back inside. Elsewhere in the region, police were called to direct cars at busy intersections as traffic lights went out.A police spokesman said drivers managed to be "considerate" and there were no crashes reported to police.

Cairns airport was forced to revert to back-up power systems at its terminals as main power went offline. Baggage handling and security screening facilities were temporarily halted by the outage, until emergency power was activated. Passengers on several domestic and international flights were held up because of the outage, with the longest delay being about 30 minutes.

Lights also went out at the region’s biggest retail centres as shoppers welcomed the first day of the Christmas trading month, but emergency lights and generators prevented any major disruptions.Mr Bartlett said power in the region was lost for up to 50 minutes because of the unexpected fault.

Yesterday’s outage follows a power cut at the northern beaches a week ago, caused by a snake at the Kamerunga sub-station.

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