Sunday, 5 June 2022

And then the power went out ...

 It was a cold blustery day with squalls of sleety rain coming from somewhere near the Antarctic, and given that Beechworth seems at times to be at the end of a very long piece of string, the power would occasionally flicker momentarily.

As Beechworth doesn't have mains gas, and we don't have a wood heater, we're reliant on power for heat, light, data, the whole shebang, so understandably we get a little nervous when the power flickers - we seem to get more than our fair share of outages and a winters' day when it was struggling to reach five Celsius is not the day to have an outage

I'd just made a crock of Boston style beans and had them bubbling away in the oven when suddenly the power went out.

Over the years we've got quite good at managing outages :

  • check if all our trips are on and if the smart meter says connected - if they are or it doesn't it's a power company issue
  • wait twenty minutes and see if the power comes back on
  • fire up the 4G travel modem and the lightweight laptop I use when we go travelling and check for an incident report
Normally, well as normal as any power outage is, it will say half the town is off and a crew (or crews) are on their way to replace transformers, reset things or something.

This time it didn't, so I checked to see if any of our neighbours had lights on. Those on the other side of the street did, but none on our side did, so I phoned Ausnet, the company that looks after the power distribution network, who said that they hadn't had any incident reports, but that they would send a truck to investigate.

This winter, we got properly prepared - a couple of new battery storm lanterns, new gas cartridges for the camping stove, so we could make some packet soup and instant coffee.

Even though the house is reasonably well insulated, it began to cool after an hour or so, so it was woolly socks and Ugg boots, and in my case wildly over specified gilet I'd bought in Scotland that's really too warm for an Australian winter that I used to take with me when we used to go skiing.

The only real problem was that my phone was only on 40%, and obviously I needed to keep it on in case Ausnet called. (Normally we use wifi calling as we're in a reception blackspot, but of course the wifi was off and both the modem and our phones were struggling to get more than a 4G bar. And when phones (and modems) struggle, they use more power.

The landline of course doesn't work as since we changed over to the NBN all phone services are VOIP based. In pre VOIP days I used to keep an old beige Telstra push button phone that worked off the phone line voltages for emergency use.

Fortunately I remembered that a little USB lantern that I use to light up the barbecue in winter had a minature power bank in it meaning my obsessive recharging of it paid off - I could use it to top up the phone and the modem batteries.

And so we waited. After about three hours I called Ausnet for an ETA on the truck. (All credit to Ausnet, when I explained that we only had electricity for heating and that J has rheumatoid arthritis that means she has to stay warm, they immediately contacted their maintainence sub contractors who'd been tasked with the job to find out what was happening.)

Just as they were telling me the truck was five minutes away a Downer Toyota Land Cruiser rolled up.

The guy jumped out, checked the power pole end of things, checked the 50A feed into the house, then got out a long pole, pulled a cover off the base of the box with his pole and swapped out one of the biggest fuses I have seen (apparently, and I did not know this, we have a fuse at the house end of the power cable to protect us from spikes caused by trees coming down on the powerline).

I'm guessing that because it happened on a Sunday, just by chance all of our neighbours on our side of the street were out, making it look like it could be a problem at the power pole end of things.

Anyway, as soon as the fuse was swapped, everything beeped and roared back into life.

All that was left was to charge the travel modem and laptop for the next time we needed them, and to recharge the battery in USB lantern.

Being prepared had paid off, and while the problem was easier to manage in daylight, we could have managed equally well after dark.

The only real lesson to learn was that we should invest in a powerbank and keep it charged so we  would be able to extend the runtime of phones, tablets,  and the internet modem in the event of a prolonged outage ...

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