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Powercor convicted on record number of charges, fined $2.1 million

Wednesday 8 May 2024 at 4:25 am

Powercor Australia was today fined $2.1 million in Shepparton Magistrates’ Court for a record number of breaches of the Electricity Safety Act 1998 (Act) and contravening Electric Line Clearance Regulations (Regulations).

The legal action was brought by Energy Safe Victoria which prosecuted Powercor for 105 offences including failing to inspect almost 5000 powerlines and failing to clear vegetation from more than 100 other lines, including one span at Glenmore where a destructive fire broke out.

Energy Safe CEO Leanne Hughson said Powercor had neglected its duty to minimise the hazards and risks inherent in an electricity network.

“Any electricity company that chooses to do business in Victoria has to comply with the safety laws in this state.  The community deserves it, Energy Safe demands it.” Ms Hughson said.

“Victoria is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world and electricity companies have a duty to prioritise public safety and minimise fire risks.

“By failing to manage vegetation around its powerlines, Powercor put one community in real danger and many others at risk."

The court heard that Powercor left trees too close to powerlines in the rural community of Glenmore where a fire broke out in February 2023 destroying property and crops. It also threatened homes while burning 185 hectares of land, prompting fears lives could be lost.

Inspections by Energy Safe enforcement officers found Powercor also failed to clear vegetation that was dangerously close to another 140 powerlines in multiple locations across the state. More than half were in hazardous bushfire risk areas (HBRAs).

Further Energy Safe reviews found Powercor failed to inspect 4866 powerlines in hazardous bushfire areas (HBRAs) in the Horsham Rural Council and Greater Shepparton City Council areas before the start of the 2021 fire danger periods.

“The length of uninspected lines was the distance from Melbourne to Sydney – that’s an inexcusable failure and unacceptable risk to a lot of people’s safety,” Ms Hughson said.

“As the Glenmore fire showed, neglecting even one span of electric line can have dire consequences.”

In sentencing Magistrate Bhai noted Powercor's early guilty plea to all charges but rejected its claim its offending was at the lower end of the scale.

Magistrate Bhai found the consequences of the risks posed by Powercor could have been 'disastrous’ noting many of the offences had occurred in hazardous bushfire risk areas, and some in fire danger periods.

Magistrate Bhai also noted that it was not the first time a bushfire had been caused by Powercor’s infrastructure.

Powercor has previously been prosecuted for failing to clear vegetation from powerlines, after fires at Rochester, Strathmerton, and Port Campbell in 2018.

Energy Safe. Always.

Media contact: Nicole Butler M: 0477 572 378 l nicole.butler@energysafe.vic.gov.au