Bushfire season: Calls for energy regulator to prioritise maintenance

Electrician working on power lines

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is facing calls to prioritise maintenance on ageing power poles and wires to prevent future bushfires that put both workers and the community at risk. 

Leading the calls is the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), which represents more than 70,000 electricians, apprentices and electrical workers around Australia. The ETU says that the regulator has cut electricity companies’ operations budgets by roughly $10 billion over the past 10 years which had led to a decrease in maintenance. 

“The Australian Energy Regulator’s cost cutting over the past decade has left our grid dangerously neglected,” ETU national secretary, Allen Hicks said. 

The ETU says that proactive maintenance is required on ageing utility poles and power lines in order to minimise the risk of faults that could lead to bushfires or major power outages. Recently a series of old power poles and wires were knocked down by heavy storms across South Australia and Melbourne, leaving homes without power for over a week as they were replaced. 

Faulty power lines were also responsible for five separate fires during the Black Saturday bushfires that left 173 people dead. Hicks said that with the current regulations making preemptive maintenance impossible, electrical workers have no choice but to wait for failure on the grid before working on unsafe infrastructure to repair it.

The ETU is calling on Commonwealth and state governments to act now to instruct the AER to prioritise maintenance on ageing and damaged utility poles and wires before it’s too late.

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