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TasNetworks – Bushfire Risk from Transmission Lines

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Tags: TasNetworks, Bushfires

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, in an answer to a previous question, Bess said that there is no bushfire risk from overhead transmission lines and that it is only from overhead distribution lines that bushfire risk arises? Can I clarify that answer?

Mr BALCOMBE - In the first instance I should indicate that all electricity infrastructure poses a risk to bushfire, particularly if it is not appropriately managed. The risks are far less from the transmission network as opposed to the distribution network. Our own history to date indicates that at the transmission level we don't start fires, and at the distribution level they are far more prevalent. They're different sorts of assets.

Dr Woodruff - Yes, I understand.

Mr BALCOMBE - The transmission networks are far more robust and resilient. From a point of view of the easements and the intervening vegetation, which is by far the greatest risk with regard to bushfire starts, it is far easier to manage at the transmission level than at the distribution level.

Dr WOODRUFF - The reason I am asking is because, in Victoria, eight country fire brigades have written to the Victorian Premier saying they will not be responding to fires in or around AusNet's proposed 500 000-volt power lines project. That is a substantially higher voltage than anything being proposed in Tasmania, but I still want to understand. There is community concern about the 220-kilovolt overhead transmission lines that are being proposed for part of the Hampshire to Staverton line and the north-west corridor. Can you speak to the bushfire risk residents have about those lines?

Mr BALCOMBE - I might make comment in regard the Ausnet line you are referring to, the 500kV line. For the Victorian planning model, AEMO is the jurisdictional planner, which is quite a different model to what we have in Tasmania where TasNetworks is the jurisdictional planner and the transmission network service provider. In Victoria it is different. AEMO does the planning and then tenders out that work. AusNet won that project. It is in the very early stages and it is through this consultation that that feedback might have been provided, so I can't comment on that.

I am confident to speak in this regard. I chair the transmission committee for the energy networks association. The critical issues we focus on are reliability, safety and cost because we want to ensure we provide a safe and reliable but cost-efficient network to the community and to businesses across Australia.

With regard to the 220kV line we are planning for the Staverton to Hampshire line, as I indicated, it will be built to the latest standards. We will manage the risks around vegetation in accordance with the way we manage risks around vegetation on our transmission network today. I will ask Wayne Tucker if he has any other comments.

Mr NORTON - Perhaps I can make a brief comment and then Wayne can talk. The question was not so much about the infrastructure causing bushfires. I suspect the issue in Victoria is fighting bushfires that go underneath transmission lines and that has been an issue nationally as to what happens when a bushfire goes underneath a transmission line. In various jurisdictions there are different protocols. In extreme circumstances the transmission line would be de energised so there is no danger to firefighters from fighting fires underneath the transmission line. Perhaps Wayne could elaborate on that a little bit.

Mr TUCKER - I agree with the sentiment that the likelihood of a transmission line causing a bushfire is rare. It is true that the easements are used quite often by the TFS as a spot to manage and fight fires and they would normally request TasNetworks to de energise the transmission line and ensure it is safe to fight the fire. That is the process we use and we will continue to do that. I am not sure if the circumstances in Victoria with regard to the 500kV line that is planned to be constructed, but certainly any line we build and manage we would manage in accordance with all our work practices and standards to ensure the risk of bushfire is mitigated.

Dr WOODRUFF - Has TasNetworks been in discussions with the Tasmania Fire Service about the proposed routes from Hampshire to Staverton? They go through densely forested communities and there is concern about the bushfire risk being enhanced because of that route through those forested communities.

Ms CLARK - I became aware on Friday. We had been approached by the TFS, so we are teeing up that meeting to engage with them to work with them as part of our process going forward, for approvals.