Power to the people

By David Schout
Residents at a 222-apartment CBD building fought and won a battle with CitiPower after the power company proposed an extended supply cut with, “no concern whatsoever for the impact on residents”.
One resident claimed that without enlisting the help of the City of Melbourne and the State Ombudsman, the eight-hour blackout would have gone ahead.
On June 19, CitiPower sent a notice to the residents of 138 apartments in Regency Towers on Exhibition St stating that a complete power outage would take place on June 29 for network upgrades.
The outage, however, was due to affect all residents (approximately 500) as, according to them, all public areas – including elevators, security systems and entry/exit doors for the carpark – would have been affected.
When several residents contacted CitiPower for clarification and assistance regarding the outage, they hit “brick walls” and were informed that a response would arrive in five business days.
According to residents this would have been too late, especially those in the upper levels of the 33-floor building who required access to elevators and other key services.
When frustrated residents went to their building manager for assistance, he told them he had not been informed of the impending cut.
Maureen Capp, a 20-year resident at the location, said she had never experienced anything like it during her time at the Exhibition St building.
“The uproar in the building was extraordinary,” she said. “People were so – not panicked – but so concerned about the lack of power for that eight-hour period.”
Mrs Capp’s personal concerns were for her granddaughter, who was staying overnight at her apartment and leaving for the airport early the next morning during the outage.
It wasn’t until residents informed the council and Lord Mayor Sally Capp (no relation) of CitiPower’s plans that things began to change.
Following the council’s involvement, CitiPower assessed the site and decided to halve the outage time to four hours (between 2-6am) and to upgrade their substation so key services would remain isolated.
Mrs Capp believes that without the interference of the council, which she said was “terrific’, the initial outage would have stood.
“If we hadn’t have got Melbourne City Council – who’ve got sway – to get onto CitiPower, we wouldn’t have got through to them. Every message was ‘we’ll get back to you in five days’.”
“There was absolutely no concern whatsoever for the impact on residents. And you don’t know in the city how many times they do this to other buildings either.”
On the day, power was restored by 4am, a result Mrs Capp said was appropriate, albeit one they had to fight for.
“All it needed was, instead of just sending the letter out, to come look at the building, speak with the building manager and put those things in place.”
In response to the allegations, a CitiPower spokesperson said: “The initial outage notice contained an error stating the outage would occur from 3-11am. This should have read 3-7am”.
When pressed on the nature of the error, the spokesperson said it was “administrative”.
Mrs Capp described the response as “impertinent”.
“Even if there was an error on the initial outage notice, which I doubt … all the associated issues still stand.”
She said as a long-time CBD apartment resident, she understood outages were expected from time to time, but questioned the way CitiPower approached this incident.
“We would accept that the notice period of approximately 10 days would have been a sufficient period of notice if there had been consultation with Regency Towers building management and if the arrangements which were agreed to after consultation had been agreed to prior to the issue of the notice.”

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