A major blackout saw a Northern Territory town without power for 17 hours, leaving businesses reeling from a loss of stock and residents frustrated at a lack of communication from mining firm Rio Tinto.
- Business owners say they have lost thousands of dollars due to recent blackouts
- Nhulunbuy’s MLA is calling on Rio Tinto to compensate affected businesses
- Health experts says ongoing blackouts may pose a risk to Indigenous communities
Nhulunbuy MLA Yingiya Guyula called on the mining giant to “provide compensation for loss of income” to businesses hit hard by last week’s power outage in Nhulunbuy and nearby Indigenous communities.
Business owners reported thousands of dollars’ worth of spoiled produce and expensive generator fees when the power went on Thursday night until Friday afternoon.
They said it was the latest in a rising trend of long, frequent outages in the East Arnhem Land town, where Rio Tinto was responsible for the power supply.
“It’s beyond a joke,” said Gove Warehouse owner Bob van Oostrum.
“There have been umpteen outages lately that have been so inconvenient and so expensive, sometimes for a whole day.”
The long-time Nhulunbuy businessman said he’d spent more than $10,000 in the past financial year running his emergency generator to keep his warehouse doors open and stop produce from spoiling in the neighbouring Refinery Cafe.
Rio Tinto did not immediately commit to compensating businesses for lost stock or hardship due to the outages, but a spokesman said the firm was “assessing the impact of the outage on the community, including businesses”.
Town businesses lose thousands in stock, trade
Peninsula Bakery owner Estelle Carter said her business lost thousands of dollars in stock and takings and was forced to shut up shop for the latest blackout’s duration.
“We’ve lost the day’s trade … that’s several thousand dollars,” Ms Carter said.
“It’s quite a significant financial loss, on top of all the COVID-19 restrictions and the impact that’s had on our business, it’s really a massive kick to the stomach.”
Blue Douglas, the owner of Arafura Meats, said Rio Tinto failed to properly communicate during the sustained overnight outage.
“I’m left lying in bed in the middle of the night, thinking about my neighbours … ‘Do I get up and turn the generator on to keep my produce cold?'” Mr Douglas said.
“And I’m not getting any information off Rio.
“This is a very common thing with power outages from Rio, they promise an update, and then six, seven hours later there’s nothing.”
Indigenous communities also affected: Guyula
Nhulunbuy MLA Mr Guyula said the power outages had also been “very difficult” for the nearby Indigenous communities of Yirrkala, Gunyangara and Biritjimi.
“Our remote towns should have reliable and sustainable power infrastructure.”
Eddie Mulholland, the boss of Indigenous health service Miwatj Health said if the outages continued it would also impact on vulnerable Yolngu patients.
“Because it was a cool night it was probably OK, but if that’s going to happen in the future in the wet season when it’s really hot, those people would be suffering through it,” Mr Mulholland said.
Union filing formal complaint over outages
A Rio Tinto spokesman said last week’s blackout was caused by two faults “which added complexity and significant time to the restoration of power”.
“There have been 12 unplanned outages this year due to a mix of environmental factors, including lightning and bird strikes, equipment faults and power station faults,” the spokesman said.
Planning was underway, he said, to ensure long-term “safe and reliable power” to the region.
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) said it was putting forward a formal complaint over the outages.
“Rio Tinto are the major player in town, they have an obligation to the Gove community,” said ETU NT organiser Dave Hayes.
He said the complaint would soon be submitted to the NT’s independent industry regulator, the Utilities Commission.