Page 4071 - Week 11 - Thursday, 21 September 2017
powerlines. The royal commission also recommended actions to reduce bushfires from being started by powerlines and has mandated the use of technical solutions on high-risk areas of their networks.
The Utilities (Technical Regulation) Act 2014 provides a technical regulatory framework for licensed electricity, gas, water and sewerage utilities. ActewAGL Distribution is regulated under this act as the sole electricity distributor in the ACT, owning the entire electricity distribution network both above and below ground. I will refer to ActewAGL Distribution as the utility.
To provide context, there is subordinate legislation under the act that defines the boundary of the utility’s network and establishes minimum clearances for vegetation near powerlines. There are also a range of technical codes under the act which contain specific requirements for electrical networks that are not covered in the act. Technical codes are subject to ministerial approval.
Madam Assistant Speaker, I would like to discuss briefly the amendments being introduced to reduce the risk of bushfires being started by powerlines in rural areas and other non-urban land outside the built-up area of the ACT. The first is to add a new provision, clause 41D(2) of the bill, which makes it clear that the utility is responsible for clearing vegetation on all land in the ACT other than urban backyards and national land, unless there is an agreement in place with the commonwealth.
This means that the utility is responsible for making sure trees near powerlines on rural leased land are safe and will not cause a bushfire. This clause also makes the utility responsible for maintaining adequate vegetation clearances in national parks and nature reserves. This will give effect to an activity that the utility currently undertakes to a high standard without any legislative basis and provides consistency across the emergency services-declared bushfire prone area and bushfire abatement zone.
The second is to add another new provision, clause 41I of the bill, which requires the utility to inspect private electrical infrastructure on rural leased land. This will allow the utility to enter private land to assess the condition of power poles and wires which are not within the utility’s network and issue a notice to the owner requiring them to make it safe. In urgent circumstances, the utility will rectify it themselves. This will prevent rural lessees bearing the burden of assessing the condition of these high-risk assets on their land.
In the urban area there has been a history of outages and ignitions due to incomplete tree clearing. In the storm that occurred in January this year, 23,000 customers experienced outages. All outages were found to have occurred in areas where trees had not been pruned due to lack of resources. As the act is currently drafted, this responsibility lies with TCCS as the landholder for urban area unleased land. The utility has been carrying out clearance work on behalf of the landholder. This limits the amount of work the utility can undertake as they have to wait until funding is available from government or arrange reimbursement.