Fallen trees during Vic storms

The utility has also committed to a plan to improve its systems and ensure that communities are supported in future power outages.

The Essential Services Commission (ESC) has accepted a court enforceable undertaking from AusNet following a failure to provide adequate power outage information and customer communication channels after the February 2024 Victorian storms that affected 255,000 AusNet customers.

AusNet’s outage tracker webpage did not have the technical capacity to withstand the amount of traffic to it following the storm, and so it crashed and was not fully restored for more than a week until AusNet completed works to restore it on 21 February. 

While the outage tracker webpage was unavailable, customers calling AusNet’s phone number also experienced excessive wait times. 

AusNet said it understood the frustration and inconvenience that the outage caused for its customers, who were not only left without power, but also without information.

Ausnet said, “We know we let you down and we are improving our systems, so this won’t happen again. As an electricity distributor operating in Victoria, AusNet is subject to the Electricity Distribution Code of Practice.

“The Electricity Distribution Code of Practice requires electricity distributors to, as soon as practicable during an unplanned interruption or emergency, provide updates by a 24-hour phone service and on a prominent place on their website. The updates need to be about the nature of the interruption and either:

  • an estimate of when supply will be restored
  • an estimate of when reliable information on restoration of supply will be available, if reliable information is not available to inform an estimate of when supply will be restored

“We acknowledge the failure to provide these updates to customers was a contravention of the Electricity Distribution Code of Practice and we offer our sincere apologies to all affected customers.

“In February 2024 we announced a $10 million Energy Resilience Community Fund, which will be fully funded by AusNet and not customers. The fund recognises the impact of AusNet’s customer communications during the storm event, as well as the impact on customers of the outages associated with the storm.”

ESC Chairperson and Commissioner, Kate Symons, said AusNet acknowledged that its failure to provide timely service interruption information to customers was a contravention of Victoria’s energy laws.

“The commission has accepted a court enforceable undertaking that represents a legally binding obligation for AusNet to directly contribute $12 million to provide remediation to its affected customers and to improve community energy resilience to extreme weather events. 

“In addition, AusNet has committed to a Compliance Improvement Action Plan through which it must improve its systems, issue a formal public notice acknowledging its contraventions and apologising to customers, pay for independent consultant reviews, and report to the commission regularly on its progress.

“The enforceable undertaking achieves an expeditious outcome for the Victorian public. The undertaking provides for AusNet to face a financial imposition for its contraventions, with the money going directly to enhance future energy resilience in the affected communities. It also formalises AusNet’s commitment to improve its systems to avoid a repeat of the same situation in a future power outage,” Ms Symons said.

Under the terms of the undertaking, AusNet has agreed to issue an additional $2 million to its previously announced Energy Resilience Community Fund, bringing its total commitment to $12 million. The additional $2 million will go directly to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, St Vincent de Paul and Financial Counselling Australia to further support consumers experiencing vulnerability.

Through the Energy Resilience Community Fund, AusNet will: 

  • Provide direct financial assistance to affected customers and small businesses experiencing financial hardship
  • Make donations to local emergency relief charities
  • Work with regional councils to award grants to provide communities with access to powered facilities to charge devices, shower, make phone calls and access support in future power outages
  • Work with the Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, local councils and community groups to identify locations for local generation solutions to keep multiple small businesses on a main street operating during future power outages

The undertaking requires AusNet to distribute the full $12 million Energy Resilience Community Fund by 31 December 2026, with any remaining amount donated to charities approved by the commission. 

The commission will closely monitor AusNet’s compliance with the terms of the court enforceable undertaking. The full details of the court enforceable undertaking are available on the commission’s website.

Image: https://www.shutterstock.com/g/grahamdrewphotography

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