Victoria, Australia — Victoria was hit by massive power blackouts today after bushfires cut a main power line in the state’s north.
As the state sweltered in high temperatures, power supplies were disrupted across wide parts of Melbourne, Geelong and northern and eastern Victoria.
Electricity retailers said up to 200,000 customers across the state would be affected by blackouts and brownouts until the early evening.
Many commuters faced a slow, hot ride home as the cuts hit train services.
Emma Daniell, from SP AusNet, which looks after power supplies to the eastern parts of the state and parts of Melbourne, said the outage was caused by an aggressive fire that swept through transmission lines near Benalla.
Ms Daniell said this prompted an automatic load reduction system to kick in, reducing power supply to customers.
She said it was not known late this afternoon when power would return, until staff could get to the area, ensure it was safe and restart supply.
Customers needed to switch off all appliances – apart from fridges, freezers and radios – while power supply was limited, she said.
SP AusNet’s Louisa Graham said the problem had affected residential and business customers in the state’s east.
“At the moment we can confirm that the Tatong fire up near Benalla has caused some problems with the inter-connector with NSW,” Ms Graham told ABC Radio.
“The inter-connector is used when there is maximum demand and obviously on a day like today, with air conditioners and things like that, we are on maximum demand,” she said.
“It has caused the system to go through an automatic load shedding.
“This means that parts right across the state will be experiencing off-power for a certain amount of time, maybe an hour or two, until the system can rebalance itself with the demand.”
A spokeswoman for electricity retailer TRUenergy said the power distribution companies were briefed this afternoon.
“The last advice I had, and this was in the last 20 minutes, was that an estimated 200,000 customers (statewide) were affected,” the spokeswoman said.
“It’s at the distribution level that the problem has occurred.”
The spokeswoman said she expected electricity would be restored to most of the affected customers by 7pm tonight.
Police and VicRoads confirmed up to 1200 traffic signals across the Melbourne and Geelong metropolitan areas were affected.
Officers were directing traffic at major intersections.
“We are asking people to take all due care at intersections with traffic lights being out and are asking them to be patient,” Victoria Police spokesman Senior Constable Wayne Wilson said.
“We are also asking people not to ring the police switchboard. We already know about the power outage and are well aware of the traffic problems.
“All they are doing is overloading the switchboard and calls of an emergency nature which need to get through may be blocked.”
Connex spokeswoman Kate De Clercq said the outage was likely to cause massive delays to trains across the suburban network.
“They’re running very slowly, we’ve got low voltage coming through,” she said.
“There are chances of massive delays rather than cancellations.”
Ms De Clercq said the delays were likely to affect services well into the evening.
Victoria’s largest regional city, Geelong, lost power about 4pm (2pm WA time).
Houses across the city were completely blacked out as non-functioning traffic lights caused chaos for homeward bound commuters.
Only a sprinkling of larger retail outlets with back up generators remained open.
Signs across several smaller shops and larger supermarkets were announcing they were closed because of the power crisis.
A spokesman for national electricity grid supervisors NEMMCO was unavailable forcomment.