Powercor to plead guilty to powerline charges


Electricity distribution company Powercor has indicated it will plead guilty to multiple charges brought by Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) for failing to keep trees clear of powerlines.

Victoria’s Director of Energy Safety Paul Fearon welcomed this development and was pleased that Powercor were accepting responsibility for failing to meet their safety obligations.

“In our view Powercor’s management of the vegetation was poor and that left communities at risk of potentially damaging bushfires,” he said.

“This is a clear warning to all electricity distribution businesses that ESV will take firm action to ensure compliance with energy safety regulations, especially ahead of what is expected to be a hot and windy summer.”

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Six charges related to three grass fires connected with tree branches hitting high-voltage powerlines. A further 51 charges incorporates 189 breaches of Electric Line Clearance regulations where Powercor had allowed vegetation to get too close to powerlines along a corridor from Benalla to Mildura.

The fires occurred earlier this year near the townships of Rochester (January 6), Port Campbell (January 28) and Strathmerton (January 20).

In Shepparton Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, Powercor indicated it would plead guilty when the case resumes in April 2019.

Mr Fearon said Powercor had undertaken significant work to improve its bushfire risk mitigation since ESV’s investigations commenced.

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The Electric Line Clearance regulations prescribe minimum distances between powerlines and vegetation to mitigate electricity safety risks, including fire starts. Distribution businesses are obliged to comply.

Most of the line clearance breaches occurred in low bushfire risk areas although changes to land and water management have left conditions significantly drier than previously, greatly increasing the risks of fire in these areas.

ESV has substantially increased vegetation inspections over recent years to better protect the community.