Powercor has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of failing to operate its network to minimise bushfire danger in relation to the Terang fire on St Patrick’s Day 2018.
The guilty plea comes during a week of trial in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court, where Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) prosecuted Powercor in respect of the St Patrick’s Day fires at Terang and Garvoc in 2018.
The guilty plea is an acknowledgement by Powercor that it breached its responsibility to keep the community safe from bushfire danger caused by clashing conductors at Terang.
Regarding the charges in relation to the fire at Garvoc, ESV has withdrawn all charges.
ESV, Victoria’s independent safety regulator for electricity, gas and pipelines, laid charges against Powercor under section 98 of the Electricity Safety Act after the St Patrick’s Day fires at Terang and Garvoc for failing to comply with its general duty and exposing individuals to hazards and risks including bushfire risk. This case was the first of its kind under the Electricity Safety Act.
The Court has adjourned the case to December 13, 2021, for a decision on the penalty it will impose. The charge carries a maximum penalty of $237,855.
Following the fires, ESV has since required a number of improvements to Powercor’s power pole management practices, including a significant increase in the minimum number of power pole interventions (both replacement and reinforcement). These improvements will continue to be implemented by Powercor over the next five years to mitigate the risk of further fires caused by failing power poles.
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Energy Safe Victoria chairperson Marnie Williams said, “These fires were a traumatic event for the local community. Property was damaged and livestock destroyed. It is the duty of every major electricity company to keep the community safe from bushfire danger caused by the failure of their assets.
“Energy Safe Victoria has held Powercor to account regarding the Terang fire and will not hesitate to hold other power companies to account for failing to manage and operate their electricity assets safely.”
Powercor responded saying, “The 2018 fires in the south west region were devastating and we acknowledge the impact it has had on the community.
“We would like to assure the community that after this event, we immediately conducted an extensive and detailed review of our processes and have strengthened how we safely operate our electricity network. This action includes:
- Rebuilding our impacted infrastructure in the vicinity of the fire.
- Proactively increasing the number of poles replaced and reinforced annually on our network.
- Significant improvements to how we inspect and maintain our poles and powerline clearances, taking on feedback from independent experts and stakeholders.
- Developing a data driven maintenance and inspection program tailored for each of our more than 389,000 wooden power poles in Powercor and CitiPower and taking into consideration factors including the type of wood, their age, and prevailing weather conditions at their location.
- Trialling a unique capability to enhance our powerline inspection program using our in-house LiDAR data captured from our helicopters. When fully implemented, this new capability will enable us to identify and fix any powerlines that don’t meet the required clearance.
“We have been reporting on the progress of these works regularly to ESV and they have reviewed and accepted our improved pole inspection and management program.”