Flying foxes caused a big blackout.
Flying foxes caused a big blackout.

Bats create blackout

THE controversial Maclean flying fox colony stirred up publicity again on Tuesday night, this time taking out a high-voltage power line and leaving the Lower Clarence in the dark for up to three hours in peak holiday trading time.

As many as 10,000 Country Energy users were affected by the outage that couldn’t have come at a worse time. Restaurants are banking on a full house. Many lost hours of trading time – and money.

About 8.30pm several flying foxes tripped the 66,000-volt line that supplies Maclean, Yamba, Brooms Head, Ashby, Iluka and surrounding areas. Power in some areas was not restored until after 11.30pm.

Country Energy Far North Coast regional general manager, Richard Wake, said crews patrolled the line and found several dead flying foxes near a span just east of the river.

“Unfortunately, several animals were electrocuted between the lines,” Mr Wake said.

Yamba Backpackers’ Shane Henwood, in response to the outage, said: “If it was a Saturday night we would have lost thousands. Luckily, most people had eaten.”

Clubs and restaurants sparked up generators and relied on gas to get them through. However, trading went ahead without air-conditioning and fans.

“There was not a breeze, it was absolutely stifling,” said owner of the Iluka Motel, Dianne Maley.

Diners at Frangipan restaurant in Angourie were offered a limited menu under candlelight. For many this was not a problem, but others walked out.

“It was pretty sad that people couldn’t get the whole Frangipan experience,” chef Lindsay McDonald said.

“There was no music, no desserts, meals were limited and customers didn’t spend the money that they usually would.”

Mr McDonald said he’d experienced more blackouts at Angourie than anywhere he’d worked.

“Every time a possum lands on a powerline there’s a blackout,” he said.

But it’s more likely to be a flying fox disturbing his cooking, with the protected species responsible for about one outage a month.

Country Energy manager community relations, Far North Coast, Mike Hely said: “They usually disrupt supply on the 11,000-volt lines that feed Yamba, Maclean and Iluka but this is the first time I’ve heard of them tripping the 66,000-volt line.”

Tuesday’s blackout occurred on the eve of an $8 million project to build a new powerline between Koolkhan and Maclean and refurbish the existing line.

“This means that if the line is damaged by a storm, wildlife or other unforeseen event, a back-up supply will be available to our customers in the Lower Clarence,” Mr Wake said.

Country Energy also plans to place underground the final few spans of both the new and existing powerlines into the Maclean zone substation.

This will significantly reduce the chances of the Maclean flying fox colony coming into contact with the line. The colonyheads out to forage at night and returns in the early hours of the morning.

Mr Wake said Country Energy would continue to work with the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and other local, state and federal government authorities, which in 2009 formed a committee to develop a strategic plan to manage the flying fox colony.

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