NSW public buildings could double as chill out areas for the elderly and other people at risk trying to escape this weekend’s predicted heatwave, says the Opposition.
As the state contemplates sweating through temperatures of up to 45 degrees in inland areas, Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord has called upon NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to trial designating public buildings such as council chambers, libraries and art galleries as ‘respite cooling centres’ for the elderly and families.
It has been done before. Mildura in Victoria has an emergency community cooling centre where the elderly can seek relief from the heat and the Canadian city of Toronto has opened cooling centers during heatwaves. Some Eastern European cities have heating centres during cold snaps.
Mr Secord said public buildings with air-conditioning could stay open longer to provide shelter for people looking to avoid the extreme temperatures.
“State governments need to have contingency plans for extraordinary events and extreme hot weather is one such event,” said Mr Secord.
“We want to minimise the effect of heat stress on the most vulnerable in our society; this is about protecting them. Unfortunately, these soaring temperatures are set to continue – and they hit the young and the elderly the hardest.”
He said it was easier for younger people and families to avoid the heat because they could go to shopping malls, the cinema, parks or beaches but the elderly and less mobile found this more difficult.
NSW Health says those most at risk from the high temperatures are the elderly, pregnant women, babies and other children, people with chronic conditions and those whose immune systems are compromised.
Meanwhile, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has predicted that demand for electricity in NSW will be the highest ever, peaking between 4.30pm and 6.30pm on Saturday, and expected to reach around 14,700 megawatts.
NSW residents are being urged to reduce their energy use, where they can.
Minister for Energy and Utilities Don Harwin said people should turn up their air con to 26 degrees, adjust fridge temperatures and switch off appliances and lights, where possible.
Mr Harwin said that despite the heat the electricity networks were comfortable there would be no break in supply.
“We are working with AEMO, TransGrid and generators to ensure that all generation capacity is operating including coal, hydro, gas, wind and solar,” Mr Harwin said.
“The government is taking additional steps to reduce peak demand, including in government operations. If required the networks will consider load shedding to manage peak demand.”
Load shedding is where AEMO orders power companies to begin switching off customers’ power supply to protect the power system from black outs.
“I am being kept up to date on the situation and if further action is to be taken we will make sure that the energy companies are informing their customers, and we will update the community as we know more,” he said.
In other news, the Senate Select Committee into the Resilience of Electricity Infrastructure in a Warming World continues with a public hearing in Canberra today (Friday). The Committee will explore how Australia’s electricity networks will cope with increased power demands from severe weather events in the future, including exploring emerging technologies.
The committee is due to report to the Senate on or before 24 March 2017.