The Victorian Government has unveiled an interim report on the February 2024 storms that knocked out transmission towers and power lines across the state, leaving 530,000 homes without electricity. 

The independent review conducted by the Network Outage Review expert panel is investigating how privately owned power companies responded to the destructive storms.  

The panel, made up of Rosemary Sinclair, Gerard Brody and Kevin Kehl, was appointed following the 13 February storms that left more than 530,000 electricity customers without power. 

Now that the interim report has been delivered, the panel will open further public consultation with affected communities. 

Network Outage Review chair, Rosemary Sinclair, said, “We’ve heard from the resilient communities who suffered most during the February storms and subsequent power outages. There are lessons for all distribution businesses from these experiences to improve outcomes for Victorians in the future.” 

Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources, Lily D’Ambrosio, thanked the panel for their comprehensive work to date and encouraged all Victorians who were affected by these outages to get involved in the consultation 

“It’s clear that improvements must be made in the way privately owned power companies respond to extreme weather events and how they communicate with the residents and businesses who rely on them,” Ms D’Ambrosio said. 

About 90 per cent of customers who lost power in the 13 February storms had power restored within the first 72 hours, but the hardest hit communities in AusNet’s distribution area – including Mirboo North, Emerald, Cockatoo, Gembrook and Monbulk – experienced prolonged outages. 

Communities have already told the panel that ensuring that damaged infrastructure, such as fallen powerlines, were safe was most important and that implementing temporary generation – particularly for main street services such as petrol stations and grocery stores – would improve their resilience and safety.  

Communities also said that accurate and timely information about the situation was critical to know what was happening, and when they were likely to have power restored. 

The interim report notes that AusNet’s Outage Tracker failed and businesses should do more to communicate with customers with limited phone and internet access. 

After listening to affected communities and investigating the processes of the privately owned power companies that own the network, the panel will make recommendations on the operational response of the companies. It is looking at contingency planning, timely and effective resource deployment and restoring supply.  

The review has also engaged and considered input from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Australian Energy Regulator (AER), Energy Safe Victoria, the Essential Services Commission (ESC), Emergency Management Victoria and other regulators.  

AusNet Executive General Manager Network Operations, Andrew Linnie, said AusNet will review the interim report over the coming weeks. 

“We welcome the collaborative approach and will continue to work with the Victorian Government and the Network Outage Review panel members to support the goal of improving outcomes for customers and communities,” Mr Linnie said. 

The Network Outage Review Panel’s interim report found that the unprecedented storm event in February stretched many aspects of AusNet’s response and identified ways in which utilities can improve how they respond to future events. 

Mr Linnie said that AusNet has already implemented several initiatives, which will benefit communities impacted by future large-scale outages and committed to implementing further changes to improve its response to future incidents. 

“Shortly after the storms, we launched a $12 million Energy Resilience Community Fund. In the short term, the Fund helped communities recovering from the storms. In the longer, term we’ll work with local governments and the community to help them become more energy resilient, so they are better prepared to withstand future weather events,” Mr Linnie said. 

AusNet has also invested in four Emergency Management Mobile Assistance vehicles (EMMAs), which will be deployed to communities impacted by future large scale unplanned outages. These vehicles will provide access to charging facilities and internet, which communities impacted by the recent storms have said is important to them. 

AusNet also said that it has improved the capacity of its Outage Tracker to ensure that it has capacity during periods of very high demand. 

Release of the Panel’s interim report coincides with the release of recommendations from AusNet’s own independent review into the operational processes and systems prior to and during the storm event the storm response, undertaken by the NOUS Group. 

“We are now putting in place plans to implement the recommendations from that review,” Mr Linnie said. 

“We are also continuing to consult with customers and other stakeholders on our longer-term plans to strike a balance between reducing the impact of extreme events and energy costs.” 

Mr Linnie acknowledged that the catastrophic storms caused extensive damage to the network and had a significant impact on AusNet customers. 

“Over 365,000 homes and businesses across Victoria were impacted, interrupting power to around 45 per cent of AusNet customers. There was significant damage to power poles, transformers and other infrastructure, with 12,000km of AusNet’s distribution network needing to be surveyed and repaired, over a quarter of our distribution network,” Mr Linnie said. 

The interim report is available for consultation from early July 2024 via Engage Victoria, with sessions to be held in affected communities throughout July. The final report and recommendations will be released in August 2024. 

Featured image/AusNet 

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