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Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission - Electricity

Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission - Electricity

In response to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was established to investigate causes, responses and how such devastating fires could be prevented from happening again.

Electricity infrastructure was determined to have caused a number of fires, including the Kilmore fire, one of the most deadly.

To reduce the future risk of power-related fires, the Commission’s final report had eight recommendations related specifically to electricity assets.

Recommendation and Status

Recommendation 27

The State amend the Regulations under Victoria’s Electricity Safety Act 1998 and otherwise take such steps as may be required to give effect to the following:

  • the progressive replacement of all SWER (single-wire earth return) power lines in Victoria with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced bushfire risk. The replacement program should be completed in the areas of highest bushfire risk within 10 years and should continue in areas of lower bushfire risk as the lines reach the end of their engineering lives
  • the progressive replacement of all 22-kilovolt distribution feeders with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced bushfire risk as the feeders reach the end of their engineering lives. Priority should be given to distribution feeders in the areas of highest bushfire risk.
Status:

This recommendation has been accepted by the Victorian Government.

Electricity distribution businesses will be required to implement approximately $500 million in improvements to protection and controls on Victoria’s electricity network. This initiative will be funded by electricity distributors and will be recovered at a modest increase in power bills to customers.

The Victorian Government will provide up to $200 million for the replacement of powerlines in areas of highest bushfire risk over the next eight years.

In addition;

  • Up to $40 million will be provided through the Safer Electricity Assets Fund, to address equity and financial hardship issues associated with bushfire mitigation.
  • The delivery of back-up generators to six facilities in 2012-13 has provided protection to 110 vulnerable Victorians. A further 19 back-up generators will be installed by end 2013.
  • Up to $10 million has been allocated to fund research to improve the cost effectiveness of bushfire mitigation. A number of research and development investigations have begun including the ignition of bushfires from electric arcs.

Recommendation 28

The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to change their asset inspection standards and procedures to require that all SWER lines and all 22-kilovolt feeders in areas of high bushfire risk are inspected at least every three years.

Status:

In October 2010 the Electricity Safety (Bushfire Mitigation) Regulations 2003 were amended to give effect to this recommendation.

Recommendation 29

The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to review and modify their current practices, standards and procedures for the training and auditing of asset inspectors to ensure that registered training organisations provide adequate theoretical and practical training for asset inspectors.

Status:

In October 2010 the Electricity Safety (Bushfire Mitigation) Regulations 2003 were amended to give effect to this recommendation.

Recommendation 30

The State amend the regulatory framework for electricity safety to require that distribution businesses adopt, as part of their management plans, measures to reduce the risks posed by hazard trees - that is, trees that are outside the clearance zone but that could come into contact with an electric power line having regard to foreseeable local conditions.

Status

In June 2010, the Electricity Safety (Electric Line Clearance) Regulations 2010 replaced the Electricity Safety (Electric Line Clearance) Regulations 2005. The new regulations require distribution businesses to include procedures for managing hazard trees.

In July 2010, Energy Safe Victoria requested distribution businesses to submit amended plans to comply with the new hazard tree requirements.

Recommendation 31

Municipal councils include in their municipal fire prevention plans for areas of high bushfire risk provision for the identification of hazard trees and for notifying the responsible entities with a view to having the situation redressed.

Status

In 2010 the Victorian Parliament enacted the Energy and Resources Legislation Amendment Act. The Act requires municipal councils to include within their municipal fire prevention plans procedures for the identification and notification of hazard trees to the entities responsible for keeping an electric line clear of trees under the Electricity Safety Act 1998.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) is developing guidance materials and templates to assist municipal councils to meet the new obligation to include hazard tree identification and reporting procedures in their municipal fire prevention plans.

Recommendation 32

The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to do the following:

disable the reclose function on the automatic circuit reclosers on all SWER lines for the six weeks of greatest risk in every fire season and adjust the reclose function on the automatic circuit reclosers on all 22-kilovolt feeders on all total fire ban days to permit only one reclose attempt before lockout.

Status

This recommendation has been accepted by the Victorian Government.

For the 2012-13 fire season, electricity distribution businesses modified circuit /peakers on some powerlines in high bushfire risk areas. This reduced the risk of bushfire at a minimal increase in the risk in the number of power disruptions. This balances the Government’s commitment to power reliability and safety.

Over the next ten years, significant risk reduction will be delivered by new safety systems on powerlines in Victoria’s highest bushfire risk areas.

Remotely controlled automatic circuit reclosers (ACRs) are currently being installed on Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) powerlines, and Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCLs) will be installed in selected substations. As of July 2013, 610 ACRs have been installed.

This equipment helps to detect and manage faults to reduce the risk of faults starting fires. Under this package of measures bushfire-prone areas of Victoria will see an upgrade to their electrical assets and therefore improvement in their safety and reliability.

Recommendation 33

The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to do the following:

fit spreaders to any lines with a history of clashing or the potential to do so fit or retrofit all spans that are more than 300 metres long with vi/pation dampers as soon as is reasonably practicable.

Status

In January 2011 Energy Safe Victoria issued directions to electricity distribution companies, requiring them to fit spreaders and vi/pation dampers consistent with recommendation 33. These devices will be installed in all areas by 2020.

Recommendation 34

The State amend the regulatory framework for electricity safety to strengthen Energy Safe Victoria’s mandate in relation to the prevention and mitigation of electricity-caused bushfires and to require it to fulfil that mandate.

Status

In 2010 the Victorian Parliament enacted the Energy and Resources Legislation Amendment Act. The Act:

  • enhances the mandate of Energy Safe Victoria to prevent and mitigate of electricity-caused bushfires; and
  • improves Energy Safe Victoria’s corporate governance arrangements.
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