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ESV charges United Energy for major line clearance breaches in high bushfire risk areas

Published:
Tuesday 13 December 2022 at 11:56 am

Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) has laid 24 charges against United Energy for allowing trees to grow too close to powerlines in high bushfire risk areas across Melbourne’s south-east and the Mornington Peninsula.

ESV Chairperson and Commissioner Marnie Williams said that the community did not tolerate electricity companies and councils that do not fulfil their line clearance obligations to keep the community safe.

“Major electricity companies should be on notice that ESV will take enforcement action, which may include prosecution, to ensure safety,” Ms Williams said.

Contact between trees and powerlines can result in fires, electric shock and power outages, which can lead to property damage and, in serious cases, injury and death. Between August 2021 and June 2022, ESV compliance officers inspected spans (stretches of powerline between power p

oles) in United Energy-managed areas. ESV identified major non-compliances on 24 spans in high bushfire risk areas posing a severe risk of fire to surrounding communities.

A major non-compliance is identified when vegetation is touching, or could soon touch, uninsulated powerlines. A significant number of other less serious non-compliances were also identified.

ESV issued written notices to United Energy requiring them to make all these spans safe.

“In light of these issues, ESV expects United Energy to make changes to its existing line clearance management systems, ensuring it meets obligations keeping the community safe”, Ms Williams said.

ESV has taken this action against United Energy after observing declining line clearance compliance over the past four years. The non-compliances were identified in Dromana, Mount Martha, Pearcedale, Tuerong, Somerville, Bittern, Crib Point, Balnarring, Cranbourne South and Langwarrin. Proceedings will commence at the Dromana Magistrates’ Court in March 2023.

Background

Major electricity companies are required to keep trees and vegetation at least 1.5 metres clear of powerlines on private and regional public land in high bushfire risk areas under regulations made pursuant to the Electricity Safety Act 1998.

Councils are responsible for trees and vegetation around powerlines on urban public land.

United Energy distributes electricity to more than 700,000 customers in Melbourne’s east, south-east and the Mornington Peninsula.

ESV has increased its emphasis on prosecuting line clearance offenders that don’t meet their obligations. It has also expanded the size of its line clearance team, which inspects powerlines, evaluates electric line clearance management plans, conducts audits and provide technical support to stakeholders. ESV was also given new powers in June 2022 to issue fines of up to $4,623 to electricity companies and councils for line clearance breaches.

To highlight the dangers of trees being too close to powerlines, ESV has produced a short animation, which alerts the community to the line clearance responsibilities across Victoria. You can view the animation here.

Media contact: Adrian Bernecich 0437 729 194 | adrian.bernecich@energysafe.vic.gov.au

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