Australia — The cost of implementing the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission’s recommendations to reduce catastrophic powerline-induced bushfires will run into billions of dollars.
But neither side of politics is willing to take a stand on the issue of socialising this massive cost.
Currently, only regional Victoria’s SP AusNet and Powercor customers will pay the estimated $10 billion to secure regional powerlines.
That’s a 22 per cent hike in Powercor customers’ bills in the western half of Victoria and a 30.3 per cent hike in SP AusNet customers’ bills in the east.
If that cost was spread across all Victorian electricity consumers, we would all face a 10.1 per cent rise in our bills – a much fairer outcome.
Yet Victorian Energy Minister Michael O’Brien and his opposition counterpart, Lily D’Ambrosio, have refused to make any major commitment on the issue.
Mr O’Brien simply stated: “The recent State budget created a $50 million Safer Electricity Assets fund – paid for by all Victorians – to assist with improving the safety of electricity infrastructure in the most bushfire-prone areas.”
That $50 million is an insult to regional Victoria and Black Saturday’s 173 victims.
Devastating: All Victorians were affected by the Black Saturday bushfires.
Ms D’Ambrosio’s response was even more pathetic, given she refused to declare Labor’s policy position on the issue.
“We’re not a pretend government,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
That must be “Lily-speak” for we’re not a viable alternative to the Coalition.
What came next from Labor’s energy spokesman was even more embarrassing: “I think what’s important is not what I think, but holding the Government to account”.
Labor has taken the stance it doesn’t need to have a policy because in government it rejected the Royal Commission’s recommendation to bury, bundle or use other technologies to replace all regional SWER and 22,000-volt powerlines.
The problem is it was the Labor Government that directed Energy Safe Victoria to force distributors, SP AusNet and Powercor to crank up their powerline inspection cycle to once every 37 months, fit spreaders to lines that could clash and dampeners to spans of more than 300m.
Powercor and SP AusNet are trying to gain regulatory approval to pass on more than $200 million in costs to meet these ESV directives.
Most fair-minded Victorians would accept we all need to chip in to avert the risk of another Black Saturday.
But even if you don’t accept that obligation, there’s a blinding flaw in the logic regional Victorians should bear the brunt of the costs.
If Melburnians don’t contribute, then why should someone in Powercor’s distribution area in Mildura pay 22 per cent more for electricity to secure powerlines in the Macedon Ranges?
Why should someone in SP AusNet’s region living in Wodonga, be paying 30.3 per cent more for upgrading powerlines in Marysville?
Black Saturday posed a threat to Melbourne’s power and water supplies, licked the suburban fringe and put the fear of God into outer-urban communities.
All Victorians must share in the cost of securing the state’s powerlines.