24 April, 2024
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Green light for review into Victoria’s biggest blackout

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The lead-up to and fallout from destructive storms that crippled Victoria’s electricity transmission network will be put under the microscope, but will not focus on the government’s role.

The Victorian government has commissioned an independent review into the preparedness and response of power distribution companies after the wild weather on February 13.

More than 12,000km of powerlines and poles were damaged in the storms, leaving 530,000 properties without power at one point.

“The community, quite rightly, have many questions that they want answered,” Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio told reporters on Tuesday.

“We want those answers.”

The review will be conducted by a panel of experts, who are yet to be appointed, and run concurrently to an Energy Safe Victoria probe into the collapse of six transmission towers near Geelong.

 Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said there were questions to be answered after the mass blackout. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

It will examine complaints about provider AusNet’s crashed outage website, reports of inconsistent and lacking information and whether homes and businesses could have been reconnected quicker.

The panel’s terms of reference have not been finalised but Ms D’Ambrosio said the process would mimic a review into Victoria’s devastating storms in June and October of 2021.

The October 2021 storms kicked about 520,000 homes and businesses off power and was the largest mass power outage event in Victorian history before last week.

Eight recommendations and 35 sub-recommendations were made as part of the 2021 expert panel review to reduce the likelihood and impact of prolonged power outages.

The only two recommendations the government did not support were to introduce a new regulatory mechanism to drive resilience and to divest a small-scale backup generator program.

Unsatisfied with the narrowness of the government-backed review, the Victorian opposition is pushing ahead with plans to set up a separate parliamentary inquiry.

“(Premier) Jacinta Allan’s inquiry is just a joke,” Opposition Leader John Pesutto said.

“It’s not fair dinkum, it won’t get to the bottom of the real questions we need to ask.”

 John Pesutto has accused Labor of failing to act on previous network reliability warnings. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

Ms D’Ambrosio denied the Allan government scrambled to commission the review to undercut the opposition’s inquiry push, declaring its focus had been on immediate relief for affected Victorians.

“That is ridiculous,” she said.

“All they (the opposition) want to do is have a 15-month talkfest.”

Monash Energy Institute director Roger Dargaville was unconvinced of the merits of any review into Victoria’s grid performance last week, given the ferocity of the storms.

“There weren’t any real significant system failings,” Associate Professor Dargaville told AAP.

He said Victoria’s energy system had shown resilience to the downing of 500kV lines between Geelong and Melbourne and damage to lower voltage networks was inevitable in such conditions.

“That kind of problem is extremely difficult to avoid unless we’re going to chop down all the trees on our streets, or propose power lines underground at extraordinary expense,” Prof Dargaville said. 

“Any complicated engineering system cannot be 100 per cent reliable”.

In 2020, Sydney power company Ausgrid calculated the cost of moving its entire network underground at between $72 billion to $130 billion and estimated it would take 40 years, raising consumers’ bills by $1200 to $2200 a year.

Some 3170 Victorian homes and businesses were still without power as a result of the wild storms as of Tuesday afternoon.

Ms D’Ambrosio said AusNet had advised her it expected all affected customers would have their power restored by Friday.

She indicated extra generators were being rolled out to individual households on Tuesday.

The storms sparked devastating bushfires in the Grampians region, with extreme fire danger ratings likely for parts of Victoria’s west on Thursday as temperatures are tipped to climb close to 40C.

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