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AusNet ordered to pay $200,000 for installing bare high-voltage powerline in highest risk bushfire zone

Thursday 4 July 2024 at 1:29 am

Electricity distributor AusNet Services has been ordered to pay $200,000 for installing an uninsulated high-voltage powerline in one of the state’s highest bushfire risk areas.

Energy Safe Victoria took action in the Supreme Court against AusNet after it constructed and energised a 34-metre span of bare powerline on the edge of the densely vegetated Selby Bushland Reserve in June 2022.

The court heard the company failed to cover or underground the 22-kilovolt line as required by section 120N of the Electricity Safety Act. The law aims to reduce bushfire risks arising from electrical networks.  

The court also heard AusNet left the uninsulated powerline energised at 22 kilovolts until August 2023, taking 47 days to rectify the issue after it was discovered.

Energy Safe CEO Leanne Hughson said AusNet had exposed the public to an increased bushfire risk for more than a year and throughout the entire 2022-23 fire season.  

“The bare line was installed on the edge of a bushland reserve and minutes away from popular tourist spots including the Puffing Billy railway. If it had started a fire the consequences could have been catastrophic,” Ms Hughson said.

“History shows it only takes one powerline to cause a fire that can devastate a community and it’s simply unacceptable for a major company like AusNet to put the public’s safety at risk.”

The court heard the situation could have been avoided entirely if AusNet had better systems and checks in place. The company has since taken steps to prevent the issue from happening again.

In handing down the decision Supreme Court Justice Stynes noted AusNet had admitted the breach and agreed to the penalty at a very early stage.  

Justice Stynes said the court orders served the public interest and may deter AusNet and other major electricity companies from breaching electricity safety laws,

Energy Safe. Always.

Media contact: Nicole Butler M: 0477 572 378 l media@energysafe.vic.gov.au