Victorian transmission line investment to reduce bushfires

The Victorian Government has committed approximately $700 million in additional investment over the next decade in changes to its electricity networks in response to recommendations made by the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC).

The Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce was established to review all options to reduce the risk of catastrophic bushfires from the electricity supply. The taskforce presented the report to the Victorian Government in September 2011.

The additional investment will be added to the $50 million already committed in the government’s 2011-12 budget. This investment will seek to reduce the risk of bushfire starts by almost two-thirds, while maintaining a reliable and affordable electricity supply. The Victorian Government will also invite the Commonwealth Government to contribute to this program to further reduce risk, which could increase the total investment up to approximately $1 billion.

The changes relate to the operation of automatic circuit reclosers (ACRs), which automatically reconnect power after an outage caused by a line fault. The VBRC found automatic reclosing had the potential to start fires in high-risk areas on high-risk days and should be suppressed at times of greatest risk.

Safety settings for ACRs will now be made more sensitive on total fire ban and code red days. Electricity distributors will change the settings for a six-week period that has been determined by the Fire Services Commissioner.

This year’s fire season commences in late January, 2012.

The February 7, 2009, bushfires were the worst natural disaster Victorians have ever experienced. The subsequent 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission identified electricity distribution assets as the cause of the worst of these fires and recommended the government take an active role in fixing the problem.