Powerline upgrade: rural residents carry bushfire prevention burden

Powerline upgrade: rural residents carry bushfire prevention burden

20 Deceember 2016

published by http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au

Australia —   ALL rural and regional Victorians will be forced to pay $500 million towards upgrading powerlines in the state’s high-risk bushfire zones, while 3.8 million residents in Melbourne contribute nothing.

That’s the outcome of the Victorian Government’s Electricity Safety (Bushfire Mitigation) Amendment Regulations 2016.

Rather than all Victorians paying the cost of powerline upgrades, Premier Daniel Andrews’ Government has lumped the cost of the upgrades on regional households and businesses living in Powercor and AusNet’s distribution areas.

In the eastern half of the state, AusNet customers living in Wodonga or Maffra will have to subsidise the cost of powerline bushfire mitigation works on Melbourne’s urban fringe in high-bushfire risk zones such as Warrandyte and Kinglake.

Yet United Energy and Citipower customers living just a few kilometres from these high-risk zones will not have to contribute a cent.

The same applies to Powercor’s customers, who live in the western half of regional Victoria, with those in Swan Hill and Mildura forced to cover the cost of powerline upgrades in the Otways and along the Great Ocean Road, while Melburnians pay nothing.

The Government enacted its new bushfire mitigation regulations in May, following a regulatory impact study that found mitigation works would add $22-$30 a year to the average AusNet household bills and $14-$17 for Powercor customers.

Yet the Government’s decision to impose the cost on regional Victorians contradicts the regulatory impact study, which states “the benefits of improved bushfire safety are not limited to a particular electricity distributor and its customers”.

Even the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission’s analysis found 68 per cent of the costs of the Black Saturday fires were sustained by all Victorians, not just those in the bushfire-hit zones.

The commission found 70 per cent of Black Saturday fatalities were due to fires caused by powerlines.

In its submission to the regulatory impact study, AusNet stated: “The costs of bushfire mitigation measures should be shared across the beneficiaries — being all Victorians.”

It was the Royal Commission that recommended “progressive replacement of all SWER (single-wire earth return) powerlines in Victoria with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced bushfire risk”.

The commission’s 2010 final report also recommended that “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”.

Government and industry analysis of mitigation options since then has shown the cost of burying or bundling the 25,450km of powerlines in high-risk areas is prohibitive.

AusNet and Powercor instead opted for current-limiting technologies that reduce the risk of powerlines sparking when they come into contact with vegetation or the ground.

A spokesman for Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the Government’s Powerline Bushfire Safety Program had removed, bundled or buried about 320km of bare-wire powerlines and was progressing well.

The minister’s office said while customers in AusNet’s and Powercor’s zones were contributing $500 million through their power bills, the Government was tipping in another $250 million to a separate powerline replacement fund.

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