Equal capacity: Energy Minister Bill Johnston levels electricity playing field in allocation ‘backflip’

Jacinta CantatoreSouth Western Times
Upper house MP Steve Thomas.
Camera IconUpper house MP Steve Thomas. Credit: Andrew Ritchie/The West Australian

A power capacity gap that left some regional households enduring multiple power cuts each day for more than a year has been remedied in what the Opposition describe as a “welcome backflip”.

But there are calls for an apology and compensation for country customers who suffered a “year of pain”.

Energy Minister Bill Johnston on Monday announced that all WA households would be moved to the same standard power supply allocation across the South West Interconnected System in order to meet the State’s evolving energy needs.

Under the plan, Western Power will offer a standard connection service capacity of 63 amps for small-use, single-phase 240V connections across the entire network, regardless of the customer’s location in WA.

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“We’ve listened to the community and sought advice on how we can best serve the power supply demands of Western Australians now and in the future,” Mr Johnston said.

“I’m pleased to announce that we now have one equitable power supply allocation across the network. That means regardless of whether you live regionally or in the metro area, everyone will have the same standard supply.”

But in welcoming the move, Shadow Energy Minister and Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council Steve Thomas said the State Government should compensate the regional customers who suffered financially during a “year of disruption”.

“I’m pleased to see the government has admitted what they did was nonsense,” the South West MLC said.

“I welcome this backflip because regional people deserve to have the same access to energy that city people do. It’s a shame it took the government a year to work this out.”

Dr Thomas said the country customers who endured daily multiple power outages over the past 12 months deserved an apology.

“I think regional businesses in particular, but also households, deserve an apology,” he said.

“For those businesses that have been damaged, they should absolutely be compensated. There were businesses that could not function ... because of this rule that had been arbitrarily applied.”

While supply amounts have not changed since the 1960s, new installation rules only came into effect in February 2022.

This changed was triggered after a review into the Western Australian Services and Installations Requirements in August 2021 determined regional installations should have capacity capped at 32 amps “to ensure the safety management of the network” among other renewable and regulatory goals, according to the a statement by Western Power at the time.

The rules meant that country customers who added air-conditioning, solar panels or similar devices to their homes and businesses since February were forced to change their circuit breaker to a new 32-amp panel with an overload-protection switch, which cuts off a structure’s power supply to prevent trips or surges more broadly across the grid.

While this important safety feature was designed to protect households and businesses, it effectively gave regional customers half the capacity of their metro counterparts, who can keep their 63-amp systems.

For many families and businesses, this resulted in multiple power cuts each day.

Dr Thomas believes the State Government should apologise and then compensate regional customers.

“I think the government should pay to have all the 63-amps (circuit breaker) restored,” he said.

“And where somebody can prove a loss because of this trial, they should compensate those businesses.”

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