Australia — Pre-emptively turning off power lines on days of extreme bushfire risk would be a ”fundamentally flawed” approach that would pose substantial risks to home owners, the elderly, businesses and even people’s ability to fight fires – if they relied on electrical-powered water pumps – Victoria’s fire commissioner Craig Lapsley has warned.
”We do not want to turn power off,” he said, because of the consequences.
”If we turn power off we take away the ability for a farmer to protect their property, because of electric pumps,” he said. ”If we did it for three days on end we would have the chief health officer questioning our health sustainability It should not be vested in me, to have the almighty right to turn power off, when I’m only the fire or emergency part of the discussion.”
Mr Lapsley outlined his opposition to such a strategy, which is used in South Australia, being adopted in Victoria during a speech to the Rural Press Club of Victoria on Thursday. He said South Australia has a policy under which the electricity supply can be turned off when certain trigger points are met on days of extreme fire risk.
”Put it on the record, I reckon it’s fundamentally flawed let South Australia do what they do I think we’ve got a reasonable process, a good process,” he said.
Mr Lapsley welcomed a discussion in Victoria about how the power network should be managed on days of extreme bushfire risk.
He said a ”huge investment” had been made in safety technologies known as ”ACRs” over the past 18 months to make power lines safer in high-fire-risk areas.
He also said power lines in three high-fire-risk areas – the Dandenongs, Otways and Yarra Valley – had been identified by fire and electricity authorities for replacement or upgrade.
Paul Fearon, Victoria’s director of energy safety, said pre-emptively turning off power on a widespread basis on days of high fire risk was inappropriate for Victoria and he would not recommend it.
”It’s superficially attractive but it is problematic, hard to operationalise, leads to more problems than it solves and ultimately has a serious impact on the level of reliability, beyond the code red or total fire ban day,” he said.
The Bushfires Royal Commission found five of the major fires on Black Saturday were caused by ”failed electricity assets”. These were the fires at Kilmore East (which killed 119 people), Beechworth-Mudgegonga (which killed two people), Horsham, Coleraine and Pomborneit-Weerite.
Subsequently, police found a failed power line was the likely cause of the Murrindindi bushfire, which killed 40 people.
Power company SP AusNet told the ASX early this year it ”remains confident that its practices and procedures did not cause or contribute to the Kilmore East bushfire”. And after a class action was launched against it last year over the Murrindindi bushfire, it told the ASX that it would ”vigorously defend any claim made against it in relation to the inspection and maintenance of its assets”.