Powercor’s actions were not good enough

Drew Douglas from Powercor’s Corporate Affairs office wrote in last week’s Advocate “expressing thanks to Musk residents for their patience” and “apologies for any inconvenience” during the scheduled, routine, five-hour power outage impacting more than 400 rural customers on January 17, a day of total fire ban, in one of Victoria’s designated high fire risk zones.

It is a positive step that Powercor has openly acknowledged the difficulties it created on the day but its failure to put forward a workable solution, ensuring this sort of issue will not happen in the future, is simply not good enough.

Powercor’s policies need to be changed or legislation governing Powercor and other electricity providers must be addressed.

This problem is not unique to our local community. No one is questioning the importance of power lines maintenance however reducing risks and managing public safety should be placed higher on Powercor’s priorities.

Putting public safety first must be non-negotiable.

Imagine the response if a power company scheduled an extended, routine power outage impacting 400 customers in inner-Melbourne on a day of total fire ban?

It’s hard to imagine because it wouldn’t happen. For the majority of rural property owners having access to mains power is essential for managing bushfire on days of high fire risk; both in gaining access to bushfire information and accessing their property’s water supply.

Powercor networks general manager Garry Audley has been quoted, “There is no plan to cut off power during periods of high bushfire risk.”

This was reaffirmed by every level of management in Powercor in the days leading up to the routine five-hour power outage of January 17; if it was a day of total fire ban, the outage would be rescheduled.

Powercor proceeded with the work anyway, clearly putting schedules and budgets ahead of public safety. A company policy that will allow this response isn’t good enough.

Member for Ballarat East Geoff Howard has written to Victorian Energy Minister Michael O’Brien urging his office “to act in support of the residents of high fire risk communities and to utilise your powers as Minister for Energy to require a review of the policy of planning and carrying out maintenance work with the associated power outages on days of high fire risk.

“With a view to prioritising high fire risk areas for inspection and maintenance well ahead of, not during, future fire seasons”.

We can be thankful that the routine power outage occurred without incident on January 17.

Had that not been the case the letters to the minister would most certainly be different today.

Mr Howard plans to raise this matter in parliament.

Routine network maintenance and power outages should not be carried out at times of high fire risk.

This compounds the threat to property and people.

If critical, non-routine works must be scheduled by Powercor and other electricity providers during days of high fire risk then those companies must manage the added risks to affected property owners. It is not acceptable for electricity providers to simply ignore the added risks they impose on public safety.

As we’re still in the middle of a severe fire season this matter requires immediate action by Powercor and state government.

Concerned MUSK residents,

Jim Culbertson and Geoff True; Mike and Yvonne Fix; Heather Mutimer and Ken Warren; David and Sally Stagg; Annie Loveband;

Benny Pettersson and Ian Young; Liz Burns; Frank and Janice Van Der Hoven; Ashley and Deanne Cooper (Daylesford); Michael Opie and Louise Surette; Bruce Rolfe and Douglas Scott; Gregory Heath; Kevin and Ann Holden; Kim Healy

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