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Tasmanian Premier asks people to conserve power -

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MARK COLVIN: The Premier of Tasmania is asking people to be careful with their energy consumption as the state deals with a major electricity problem.

The dams that supply the state's hydro-electric scheme are so low that Tasmania's been forced to import electricity from Victoria via an underwater cable.

But that cable has been broken since December.

Felicity Ogilvie reports from Hobart.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Almost 60 per cent of Tasmania's electricity is used by big industrial manufacturers such as mines and smelters.

Several have agreed to take power cuts as the hydro-electric schemes dry up.

Now the Premier of Tasmania, Will Hodgman, is asking all Tasmanians to use less power.

WILL HODGMAN: We will always encourage any energy users - large major industrials, small businesses, Tasmanian householders - to be prudent and sensible and careful with our energy consumption.

I believe that Tasmanian consumers do that the year-round as they balance household budgets and they minimise their costs.

I would of course encourage people to be prudent with their energy use.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Tasmania is in trouble because the hydro-electric schemes, which generally can provide the electricity needs for the entire state, are running out of water.

What's more, the back-up has failed.

Basslink - the cable that carries electricity across Bass Strait has been out of operation since December. The owners of Basslink can't say when the problem will be fixed.

The State Government has been forced to look for alternatives to power the state.

The Premier, Will Hodgman, says a gas-fired power station has been re-opened and diesel generators will also be used to make electricity.

WILL HODGMAN: Without the contingencies, without our plan that we've put in place, we would not be able to adequately provide for Tasmania's energy security.

These contingencies will do just that and there'll be additional measures Minister Groom will outline shortly.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The Energy Minister, Matthew Groom, says the amount of energy being produced by gas and diesel will exceed the full import capacity of the broken Basslink cable.

MATTHEW GROOM: The advice that we have received is that the process of identifying the precise fault location is very technical and complex.

It's fair to say that it's taken longer than they would have hoped, that work continues.

It's important for people to understand that they need to get it right in terms of the fault location because to cut the cable in the wrong spot could have very serious consequences in terms of the return to operation program.

FELICITY OGILVIE: In the good times, when the state's dams were at high levels, Tasmania used the Basslink cable to sell electricity to the mainland.

Tasmania is preparing to ask the Commonwealth to spend up to a billion dollars putting a second, publically owned electricity cable under Bass Strait.

But the Tasmanian Greens Leader, Cassy O'Connor, says the state should be investing in renewable energy such as more wind farms and solar power.

CASSY O'CONNOR: Unless we're investing in energy efficiency, unless we're ramping up our renewable capacity, next summer or the summer after we may be firing up the diesel generators again, which is a dirty form of power and it is significantly contributing to our greenhouse emissions.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The Labor Opposition Leader Bryan Green says the Government has waited too long to turn the gas fired power station back on.

Until recently the State Government business that runs the hydro-electric schemes - Hydro Tasmania - said on its website that the Tamar Valley Power Station was going to be sold because it wasn't needed to meet the state's energy needs.

Opposition leader Bryan Green says it should never have been considered to be put on the market.

BRYAN GREEN: What I do know is that they should've running the Tamar Valley Power Station for the last 18 months.

When lake levels got to about 28 per cent they sort of switched it on to conserve water, and I know that the cost of diesel generation will be astronomical on a month-by-month basis, which will put enormous pressure on the finances of the state and of course the consumers.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The dams that supply the state's hydro-electric schemes are expected to hit record lows of 14 per cent by April.

MARK COLVIN: Felicity Ogilvie.