When did AGL find out about the fires on Saturday 17 March and how was it monitored from there on?
AGL personnel in our Melbourne office monitoring the AGL wind farms became aware of fires in the area at 20:52 and began monitoring the fire from that time. During the night this was escalated up the line as further information came to hand.
AGL’s Emergency Response team monitored the situation closely from our Incident Control Centre at our Loy Yang Power Station and our Dispatch Centre at our Head Office in Melbourne.
The Emergency Response Manager attended AGL's Incident Control Centre at our Loy Yang Power Station and engaged with emergency services personnel from there. The Gas and Renewables Manager notified the Wind and Solar Manager, who attended the Dispatch Centre at AGL's Bourke Street office and was in contact with local Vestas staff. This group remained in touch throughout the night and reconvened at 7 am and again at midday on Sunday.
AGL was in contact with emergency services and Vestas staff throughout the event.
In an emergency response scenario, AGL have the following protection priorities:
- People (protect the health, safety and wellbeing of those involved (e.g. staff, contractors, landholders, neighbours and the community)
- Environment (protect, preserve and restore the environment)
- Assets (protect and repair property)
- Reputation (provide key stakeholders with timely, consistent and accurate information)
- Liability (facilitate a prompt return to business as usual with minimal losses following the event)
What were the conditions on the evening of Saturday 17 March and early morning of Sunday 18 March during the fire?
AGL monitored the wind continually throughout the night. Macarthur Wind Farm was generating winds at about 17.2m/s (62 km/hr) until about midnight. The wind then reduced to about 9.4m/s (34 km/hr) before stabilising at about 12m/s (43m/s).
Why did Macarthur Wind Farm continue to operate during this time?
Many locals in the area were relying on electrical power to monitor and fight the fire, so while it may seem that shutting down the windfarm would improve the situation for the local communities, this could then threaten the power network, which could have made the situation worse. These are just some of the challenges assessed and acted on throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning.
It is also important to understand that wind turbines are not fans. They take energy from the wind, so actually decelerate the wind as it passes through the farm, as opposed to fanning it. In a bushfire or grassfire, the fire creates its own wind and draft stream, which may account for the wind speeds described by the neighbour in your email. This happens irrespective of whether there is a wind farm operating in the area.
Why did other local wind farms stop operating?
Yumbuk, Codrington and Oaklands Hill wind farms are all part of the network connected to the Terang substation that was impacted by the Terang fire. When this substation tripped, it tripped these wind farms. Macarthur, being on a different network and connected to the substation at Tarrone which was not impacted by the fire, was not impacted in a similar manner.
How was the decision made to shut down Macarthur Wind Farm the following Thursday?
Victoria Police, acting in collaboration with the Penshurst CFA, contacted AGL to request the turbines be shut down to allow for aerial water bombing. AGL received a phone call from Victoria Police at 1.20 pm and was fully shut down by 1.30 pm. So, the Macarthur Wind Farm shut down within 10 minutes of being instructed by Victoria Police to do so.
The wind farm did not become operational again until all parties agreed it was safe to do so.
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