Thank you for your submission of September 2012 in response to the Consultation Paper on regulatory arrangements to support the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program (PBSP). This correspondence is to inform you of decisions made as an outcome of the consultation process and next steps.

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is committed to ensuring that Recommendation 27 of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and the related recommendations of the  Government's Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce (PBST) are implemented (see Attachment A for a description of these recommendations).  The Consultation Paper presented three options for delivering on the Government's commitment to address these recommendations – regulatory change; use of Energy Safe Victoria's (ESV) 'Directions' powers under S.141 of the Electricity Safety Act 1998, and a 'non-regulatory' approach.

Submissions to the Consultation Paper were received from each of the electricity distribution businesses (SP AusNet, Citipower/Powercor, Jemena, and United Energy Distribution), the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and Electrical Trades Union (ETU). All submissions have been made available on the Energy and Resources website.

Overall, submissions indicated a general preference for some form of regulatory response (regulatory change or ESV Directions) to support the installation of new network safety assets by electricity distribution businesses (new generation automatic circuit reclosers and rapid earth fault current limiters), and new requirements to insulate/underground powerlines in the highest bushfire risk areas. Electricity distribution businesses indicated a preference for the use of ESV Directions powers, while the MAV and ETU indicated a preference for a change to regulations to support the Government's objectives.

Having considered all submissions, DPI undertook an additional assessment of ESV Directions powers to determine their suitability to support this asset rollout. Based on this assessment, DPI considers that the current powers under S.141 of the Electricity Safety Act 1998 are not adequate to support a Direction requiring distribution businesses to undertake a large-scale rollout of new generation automatic circuit reclosers and rapid earth fault current limiters. As a consequence, DPI has decided to pursue a regulatory change approach.  This will involve the development of new regulatory obligations for consultation with stakeholders as part of a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) process.

It is proposed that the new regulations will form part of existing safety regulations under the Electricity Safety Act 1998, and will set high-level requirements on the distribution businesses with respect to the rollout of new network safety assets and new and replacement powerlines in the highest bushfire risk areas. Distribution businesses will retain the flexibility to determine the best means to deliver on these requirements through their Electricity Safety Management Schemes and/or Bushfire Mitigation Plans.

It is anticipated that a RIS along with draft regulations will be released on the DPI website for formal consultation later in 2013. I would greatly appreciate your organisation's ongoing engagement with this process.

If you have any questions with respect to the information contained in this correspondence, please contact Mr Peter Dobson, Senior Policy Officer, Powerline Bushfire Safety Program, on (03) 9658 4169 or peter.dobson@dpi.vic.gov.au.

Yours sincerely

Mr Ashley Hunt
Director
Powerline Bushfire Safety Program

Attachment A

Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission - Recommendation 27 (July 2010)

The State amend the Regulations under Victoria's Electricity Safety Act 1998 and otherwise take such steps as may be required to give effect to the following:

  • Progressive replacement of all single-wire earth return (SWER) power lines in Victoria with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced bushfire risk. The replacement program should be completed in the areas of highest bushfire risk within 10 years and should continue in areas of lower bushfire risk as the lines reach the end of their engineering lives.
  • Progressive replacement of all 22-kilovolt (kV) distribution feeders with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced bushfire risk as the feeders reach the end of their engineering lives. Priority should be given to distribution feeders in the areas of highest bushfire risk.

PBST Recommendation 1 (September 2011)

Electricity distributors implement the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission's recommendation 27 by:

(a) installing new generation protection devices to instantaneously detect and turn off power at a fault on high fire risk days:

  • on SWER powerlines in the next five years (new generation SWER ACRs)
  • on 22kV powerlines in the next 10 years (rapid earth fault current limiters)

(b) targeted replacement of SWER and 22kV powerlines with underground or insulated overhead cable, or conversion of SWER to multi-wire powerlines, in the next 10 years

to the level of between $500 million and $3 billion, consistent with the package of measures selected by the Victorian Government. These should be implemented in the highest fire loss consequence areas first.

Any new powerlines that are built in the areas targeted for powerline replacement should also be built with underground or insulated overhead cable.