Anger following power outages

Anger following power outages

14 October 2020

ELECTRICITY customers in Down District have been left angry after the latest in a number of power cuts caused more disruption last week.

A number of local politicians have expressed their dismay at the power cuts, three of which were caused by swans flying into overhead lines.

South Down MLA Colin McGrath said issues with electricity needed to be sorted out after four power cuts in three weeks, including two last Wednesday.

‘We have been experiencing power outages for three weeks in a row for around one hour each time, during business hours and impacting about 9,000 homes and 30,000 customers,” the SDLP politician said.

“People were understanding the first and second times, but they were getting frustrated by the third time. For the second time last Wednesday there was a cut in supply. A swan apparently flew into the line and caused a second outage.

“I have written to the Economy Minister [Diane Dodds] to ask her to speak with the regulator to get answers and hope there will be no more interruptions.”

Ulster Unionist Slieve Croob councillor Alan Lewis has called for explanations as to why there were power cuts. 

He said: “Last Wednesday thousands of consumers were offline, residents, businesses, schools, government offices both local and regional, from Ballynahinch to Downpatrick, Seaforde to Newcastle and Castlewelllan to Ballyward. Some were off for at least half an hour, others longer with outages being intermittent and prolonged.

“NIE have confirmed to me that Wednesday’s power failure was not a network equipment failure.

“I understand that the outage was caused by a catastrophic failure of supply which occurred further up the system with System Operator for Northern Ireland.

“I’ve written to SONI to ask what caused the fault and how it can be avoided in the future.”

Cllr Lewis said the cuts in supply had an adverse affect on people trying to work from home. 

“I’m asking that SONI reassure customers and consumers that this won’t happen again. I would also like answers as to what led to the failure and how it can be avoided in the future. Is the integrity of the supply safe from disruption?”

Baroness Margaret Ritchie said she would be seeking an explanation from the Economy Minister and assurances that the issue will be sorted.

She is also writing to Northern Ireland Electricity asking it to provide more details about what has been going on.

“Power cuts do happen from time to time, but the sheer number we have had in and around Downpatrick recently is way beyond reasonable expectations,” Lady Ritchie said.

“These sudden blackouts are happening without any warning. They are causing real problems as so many people are working from home at the moment because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“When the power goes off, people can’t work. They often can’t access the internet or even make phone calls. It’s massively frustrating, especially when they don’t know why the cut has happened and how long it will go on for.”

She added: “People living in this part of south Down  are getting thoroughly fed up with this. They want answers and assurances that this problem will be solved once and for all. I expect the Minister and Northern Ireland Electricity to provide them.”

A spokesperson for NIE said: “Customers in Downpatrick experienced an interruption to their power supply on three occasions recently due to swans colliding with the high voltage overhead line network in the same area of the Quoile River.

“NIE Networks engineers responded immediately each time and power was restored to those customers affected within a 15-30 minute period.

“Due to the natural behaviour of birds, this is a difficult issue to mitigate against. However, we fully understand the inconvenience any interruption to supply causes to our customers.

“Bird and wildlife welfare is also very important to us and we have installed insulated conductors and flight diverters on the affected lines to help prevent this issue from happening and further protect the wildlife in the area.”

The spokesperson added: “In a separate and unrelated incident, NIE Networks received reports of a power cut in the areas of Mourne and Downpatrick on Wednesday, October 7, at 1.20pm.

“NIE Networks engineers responded immediately and restored power to the customers affected a short time later. The power cut occurred due to a fault at a substation.”