United Energy has been ordered to pay $93,200 in fines and court costs after it was convicted of failing to properly maintain vegetation clearance around powerlines in south-east Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula.
Energy Safe Victoria, the safety regulator for the state, brought 24 charges to the hearing, following inspections by compliance officers during 2021 and 2022. Energy Safe Victoria identified a number of locations in hazardous bushfire risk areas where trees had grown within the prescribed minimum clearance spaces in respect of power lines.
Nine spans had vegetation detected 300mm or less from an uninsulated powerline, with two spans displaying evidence of contact with the lines. Eleven spans had vegetation detected within 301mm and 500mm of an uninsulated powerline, and four spans had vegetation detected within 501mm to 600mm of an uninsulated powerline – one of which was on a powerline span that had a minimum clearance space of not less than 2250mm.
United Energy entered a guilty plea to all charges, was convicted, and was ordered to pay a fine of $80,000 plus costs of $13,200.
As well as bushfires, vegetation coming into contact with powerlines can also be the cause of widespread electricity outages.
The charges related to inspections of powerlines across the Mornington Peninsula and south-eastern suburbs including Langwarrin, Pearcedale, Somerville, Crib Point, Bittern, Tyabb, Balnarring, Tuerong, Main Ridge, Mooroduc, Cranbourne South and Mount Martha.
Ahead of this summer, Energy Safe will be targeting high bushfire risk areas, including the Mornington Peninsula, to ensure vegetation is being managed and is at safe distances from powerlines. Other target areas will include the Dandenong Ranges and the Macedon Ranges.
Inspectors will also focus on Victoria’s south-west, including areas impacted by the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018, and the Colac Otways region. Energy Safe inspections will continue throughout the fire danger period.
Energy Safe Victoria CEO, Leanne Hughson, said, “Powerlines and vegetation, especially trees, do not mix. Bushfires have been caused by trees coming into contact with or bringing down powerlines.
“United Energy are required by law to maintain a minimum distance between vegetation and powerlines and they have fallen well short. The fine and conviction imposed by the court shows the seriousness of the offence especially in high bushfire risk areas along the Mornington Peninsula.
“Given the very real risk to the communities that live and holiday in that area, we expect United Energy to do better,” Ms Hughson said.