Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Energy. What action is the government taking to support river communities and irrigators left without power for prolonged periods? Sir, with your leave and that of the house, I will explain.
Mr WHETSTONE: The opposition has been advised that there will be disconnections for up to 2,000 Riverland customers this week and a potential for up to 6,000 in coming weeks, with outages set to last for up to three months or more due to prolonged high river flows.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS (West Torrens—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Minister for Energy and Mining) (14:27): The member has been in contact with me personally about this issue and asked me to raise these issues with SA Power Networks. It is a very good question. I have received a briefing from the department on this matter, which I thought I would inform the house about.
As a result of prolonged and sustained rainfall over catchments, the flow rate for the River Murray in South Australia has commenced rising, which in turn has caused the river to start rising, obviously. The flow rate of the river at this stage is expected to peak over December 2022, with elevated flows persisting until February 2023.
Advice from SA Power Networks is that approximately 107 connection points have been disconnected as at 15 November, mainly consisting of shacks and community infrastructure such as public barbecues in Morgan. These emergency disconnections are for safety reasons and as such fall outside the Guaranteed Service Level scheme.
As the flow rate rises to 120 gigalitres per day, it is expected that approximately 2,000 customers will need to be disconnected. SA Power Networks is providing customers with as much notice as possible of an impending disconnection, typically a few days' notice. However, it is not possible in all circumstances to provide a notice.
I am advised that SA Power Networks is in communication with the local councils, business and agricultural groups and other organisations to help prepare landholders and residents for the flood impact. Where disconnections occur, it can generally be expected the power will remain off for several weeks. SAPN has established principles for safe reconnections at the earliest possible opportunity.
There is a potential for impacts on pumping stations for River Murray irrigators as water levels rise. SAPN has been working with irrigators and has offered to assist where there are alternatives available. At a substation level, SAPN considers the Renmark substation at potential risk. Work to strengthen the substation to withstand a significant flood flow rate will be completed by the end of this week.
SAPN is also carefully surveying clearances to water levels where powerlines span across the river. Where distances between a line and the water breach the minimum required clearance level, the line will be disconnected for safety reasons. Current modelling forecasts that the key likely peak flow rate is dramatically higher than we had anticipated.
The problem that we have here is that we are acting within the protocols of the National Electricity Market to keep people safe, which means that there will be some disconnections. Those disconnections are highly undesirable for the local community, but they are done in the best interests. I undertake to work with the member of parliament to make sure that we can minimise the impact and use every regulatory process we have at our disposal to make sure we can inform those residents as early as possible about when disconnection is coming and reconnect them as early as possible.
This is an act of nature. This is not something that we could possibly have built infrastructure to withstand. This is no different from a bushfire, a storm or a flood. I know that residents will be doing it tough in this part of South Australia, and the South Australian government is with them. We will be working with their local representatives, including the council, to make sure that South Australian Power Networks and ElectraNet use all the facilities they have to make sure that people are looked after, and I undertake to the house to keep in regular contact with the member. He has my personal number. He can call me at any time he wants to discuss this.