Power outage outrage

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Powerless: Mt Martha Village business owner Lyndal Barnes says United Energy has been dismissive over concerns that being without power would badly affect traders and their customers. Picture: Yanni

ANGRY traders and their customers in the Mt Martha shopping strip were reeling on Thursday after United Energy cut the power from 8am-5pm.

The power cut was necessary for the removal of one wooden power poles and to put power lines underground.

The pole, now replaced by one metal silver lamppost, were taken out to improve views across Port Phillip from a house being built alongside the heritage-listed Green Gables near the Dominion Road corner.

Most of the village’s 41 businesses were forced to close their doors or restrict staff hours on what would normally be a busy trading day.

The outage, which United Energy said affected 224 “mostly residential” customers, turned the shopping centre into a ghost town.

Traders learned of the outage and closure of the Esplanade and parts of Bay Road by letter on 18 July.

Mr Curtis Cafe proprietor Lyndal Barnes, who met with 25 aggrieved traders on Tuesday night, said the “fact-finding session was all about where we could go from here”.

“They [United Energy] have been dismissive of us,” she said. “The whole issue could have been better discussed with us rather than them just them deciding it by themselves.

“At this time of year when things are slow every bit of income helps.

“It is going to hurt everyone. Lots of people in hospitality are casuals and they will lose that day’s work.”

United Energy would not say how much would be charged for the day’s work but was rumoured to be $125,000-$320,000.

Vince Giuliano, the owner of the house, said he had no idea the repercussions of removing the poles would be so major. “I’m very disappointed,” he said. “At no stage were we told there would be such disruption to traders. It’s very unfortunate and not something we wanted to cause.

“The timing was not of our choice.”

Mr Giuliano said he understood United Energy had also wanted to do some works to upgrade power supplies to the village “but they were not able to do so”.

“We know a lot of the traders there and this is not something we would have wanted to cause,” Mr Giuliano said.

He said the family home being built on the Esplanade was “something we have been dreaming about for 40 years”.

Mt Martha Village Clinic had to reschedule 140 medical appointments and 37 pathology appointments on the day.

Dr Mark Sujecki said a hired generator only powered the computers. There was no lighting and he feared vaccines in the fridge could spoil.

“We’ve never had an outage like this and it is devastating,” he said. “It’s such a critical situation and yet there was very little community consultation. We had only four days’ notice.”

Dr Sujecki, who has been at the clinic 26 years, said a better time for a planned outage would have been overnight. “United Energy were totally inflexible,” he said. “They just said, ‘We gave you notice’ and that because they are an essential service they can do what they want.

“I told them we were an essential service, too.”

Mt Martha Terry Bateman Pharmacy’s David Evans said it was “negligent” of United Energy not to have asked what was the most suitable day for the work.

Ritchies’ Supermarket manager Mark Rayner said his major concern was keeping the fridges going. “No one will be here because people tend to stay away when these things happen,” he said.

No power to lights, mincer, band saw, tenderiser, slicer and scales meant Bells Gourmet Meats opened 6-9am and after 5pm.

“The outage meant a loss of trade and inconvenience as we had to move staff around,” Jake Joffe said. “Not having power raises work safety issues and we had to close for the day.”

NewsXpress’s Geoff Seymour said he was grateful Thursday was not the night of the $110 million Powerball jackpot. “It certainly would have been a panic if the jackpot hadn’t gone off [last week] and it was up to $150 million.”

United Energy’s corporate affairs manager Emma Tyner said on Thursday: “We know how inconvenient it is to be without power and when we are planning work we always look at how to minimise the impact on customers.

“Given the area is popular for tourism, we selected a weekday to minimise the impact on weekend visitors and traders.”

Cafe Via Battiste, on social media, estimated United Energy’s “complete lack of … planning” would have cost traders $500,000.

UNUSUALLY for a Thursday parking was no problem at Mt Martha Village on 25 July. Power had been cut to all shops, businesses and nearby houses to allow United Energy workers to remove one wooden pole and places power lines underground. The day was frustrating for residents and traders, but improved sea views from a house being built on the Esplanade. Pictures: Keith Platt

With Keith Platt

First published in the Mornington News – 30 July 2019

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