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In 2015 electricity network service providers in Australia will be required to meet new economic benchmarking requirements set by the Australian Energy Regulator. The economic benchmarking will require that network service providers report additional information on the vegetation management activities that occur on their networks. 

By undertaking economic benchmarking, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) hopes to determine a network service providers (NSPs) efficient level of expenditure on activities including vegetation management, which can vary depending on
the operating environment of each network.

What changes are coming?

To get a better understanding of the extent of vegetation management activities across the networks for benchmarking purposes, the AER has changed the number of management variables to be reported on to now include:

• The number of vegetation maintenance spans and the total number of spans

• Average vegetation maintenance span cycle

• Average number of trees per vegetation management span

• Average number of defects per vegetation management span

• Tropical proportion

• Bushfire risk.

What this means is that an NSP must now find ways to report on actual metrics, such as the number of trees per vegetation management span as described above, or provide estimates using various methods acceptable to the AER.

Providing the AER with this data is critical for the NSPs because the data will be used to set revenues for the next regulatory period, which concludes in 2015 in Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia. Given that the industry has traditionally outsourced vegetation management to external contractors, the data the AER is seeking will usually only be found in contractor IT systems, if it exists at all. Getting access to contractor data and validating its correctness, as well as augmenting existing data to meet the new AER requirements, is expected to prove very challenging and expensive for most Australian NSPs.

To take the average number of trees per vegetation management span as an example, the AER requires NSPs to only include trees that require active vegetation management, i.e. trees that only require inspections and do not require other vegetation management efforts are specifically excluded from the report to the regulator. While contractor timesheets may hold this information, accessing it is expected to be very time consuming for NSPs unless contractors have had the foresight to routinely enter this information into an electronic database. Validating that this data is actually correct is another headache that vegetation managers will be faced with.

Additionally, the AER will require information on expenditures, including costs associated with:

• Hazard tree clearance

• Ground clearance

• Vegetation inspections

• Vegetation audits

• Access track maintenance.

One option that utilities have is to provide a vegetation management system for their contractors to use. This is the approach that AusNet Services took 15 years ago when it deployed the GT FMC platform from Geomatic Technologies (GT) to give it full control of vegetation management activities across its network.

The GT FMC Vegetation Management Solution (VMS) helps utilities oversee all aspects of vegetation management with a technology solution that meets current and proposed AER reporting requirements.

VMS contains specific workflows and business rules to ensure that the right data is captured in the field by contractors and at a high enough quality to give vegetation managers the peace of mind that AER reporting requirements are being met.

By splitting out key stages in the vegetation management life cycle (e.g. assessments from cutting), NSPs can seek cost efficiencies through better cost control and forecasting. By incorporating a technology solution into vegetation management, NSPs have the flexibility to change out contractors while retaining ownership and control of the vegetation management data.

David Crook, Manager Vegetation & Easements for Select Solutions, a division of AusNet Services, said “The current workflow generated by the business rules in VMS is considered a major plus. The solution provides flexibility in extracting data required to meet both business reporting and regulatory requirements.”

Conclusion

The AER has changed the number of management variables to be reported on in relation to vegetation management activities. Vegetation managers must now look at how they can generate this information in a timely and cost-effective manner on their networks in order to consistently meet regulatory compliance. With information usually only residing with contractors, it is time for NSPs to reassess current practices on acquiring and maintaining accurate vegetation management data. By utilising technology solutions such as VMS, vegetation managers can ensure that the right data is being collected by their vegetation management contractors and that this data will be available to them even if they decide to switch contractors or split the vegetation management process into smaller pieces of work to achieve greater cost control.

About GT

Founded in 1994 with a strong background in surveying sciences, Geomatic Technologies (GT) has a long and successful track record in the application of advanced technologies to make complex utility assets easier to understand and manage. GT is an AusNet Services owned company.

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