United Energy explores underground power in fire regions

United Energy employee speaks to consultation group at conference table in brightly lit room (underground power)
Image: United Energy

Powerlines in high fire danger areas could be placed underground as part of a package of new resilience measures being tested and explored by electricity distributor United Energy.

The activities being considered by United Energy for Melbourne’s south-east and the Mornington Peninsula are aimed at making its network stronger and more resilient in the face of more frequent and severe weather events driven by climate change.

Related article: United Energy fined for failing to clear trees near powerlines

United Energy representatives met with community members in Red Hill to hear their views on the initiatives and road test a range of scenarios as part of its next five-year business plan, with a draft to be submitted to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) this August.

Other resilience measures being explored include:

  • Expand the fleet of emergency response vehicles able to support communities
  • Expand the fleet of mobile large-scale generators to temporarily power communities
  • Fire-proof-wrap or replace wooden poles in high fire danger areas
  • Increase the heights of dozens of powerlines in areas at risk of flooding.

The measures have been developed following three years of extensive community engagement on the Peninsula and the south-east, where the customer impacts of a range of major weather events have been experienced.

United Energy general manager of regulation Renate Vogt said the consultation session was another opportunity to hear directly from community members about the challenges they face when extreme weather events impact the power network, and what they want us to invest in.

“As we are experiencing more intense weather events, we need to prioritise investments that build and maintain stronger networks and communities,” Vogt said.

“Just as more extreme weather is increasing the risk of prolonged outages, our customers are becoming more dependent on electricity than ever before.

Related article: Storms cause power outages and bushfires across Victoria

“We are listening to our customers to help us find solutions to build more resilient networks in the face of climate change, while keeping costs as low as possible.”

Proposed solutions, associated costs and benefits will be tested with customers before the draft plans are published in August 2024. The final plans will be submitted to the Australian Energy Regulator for approval in January 2025.

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