Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Western Power fined over Wheatbelt fire

Western Power was today fined $80,000 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure network safety in relation to the Wickepin-Narrogin bushfire in February last year.

Perth Magistrates Court heard the bushfire on 6 February 2022 started when Western Power’s high-voltage overhead electricity conductors clashed between two power poles in Wardering.

The resulting sparks ignited grass stubble and the fire spread across 18,000ha of bushland and farmland. The same powerline clashed another two times on 11 February 2022 before it was remediated later that day.

WA’s electrical safety regulator, Building and Energy, told the court its investigation found the distance between the power poles exceeded the prescribed limits. The separation between the conductors that clashed was also closer than the prescribed limits, causing a risk of arcing.

Western Power was charged under WA’s Electricity (Network Safety) Regulations 2015 for failing to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that its network was maintained to ensure it was safe in the months leading up to the bushfire.

In addition to the fine, Magistrate Stephen Butcher ordered Western Power to pay $1,719 in costs, noting the network operator was aware of issues with the powerline bay and had not carried out remediation, requiring just two days’ work, prior to the fire.

His Honour considered victim impact statements from property owners, who described the physical, emotional and financial effects of the incident including fighting the fire and handling deceased livestock.

WA’s Director of Energy Safety, Saj Abdoolakhan, welcomed Western Power’s guilty plea and acknowledged its improvement actions since the bushfire.

“This was a damaging and stressful incident for the affected land owners, many of whom are still dealing with the aftermath,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.

“Network operators have a duty to safely maintain their infrastructure. They will be held to account when these responsibilities are not upheld.

“Since this incident, Western Power has carried out remediation work at similar powerline bays to reduce the potential risks and it has agreed to strengthen its safety management systems.”

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