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Friday, 8 March, 2013

Kinglake-Kilmore East bushfire trial update – week one

At the conclusion of the first week of hearings in the Kinglake-Kilmore East Black Saturday Bushfire class action, Justice Jack Forrest has announced that the opening submissions of all parties can be made available to the public.

The case being put on behalf of the class action group members made reference to several significant internal SP Ausnet documents that highlighted the electricity company knew of several inadequacies with their training, inspection and maintenance regimes.

The documents also reveal that the company chose to ignore the best advice of its own Lead Engineer for lines Mr Saman De Silva, and it ignored advice contained within its own bushfire mitigation manual produced years earlier.

The following excerpts highlight that SP Ausnet’s own people knew not enough was being done by the company in regards to line safety and maintenance.

In August 2007, SP’s Maintenance Program Delivery Manager Andrew Randall wrote an email to Lead Engineer for lines Mr De Silva, indicating that SPI was aware that its reactive maintenance practices were slow and inadequate. Mr Randall wrote:

UAM inspect first and have no incentive to defer maintenance, they are more likely to pick things up and aggressively prioritise them to cover their backs. It is our maintenance team that invariably pushes out the priority and say it will last a bit longer. I agree we are not doing enough maintenance.

An internal report prepared by SPI in June 2010 relating to an amended asset performance strategy records shows:
Due to the limited expenditure on the network between 2001-2007, and the introduction of the asset performance strategy, find rates [of faults] have risen in some areas from 2% to 15%. One of the main contributors is the previous strategy of delaying replacement of deteriorated assets across the entire network, which consequently impacted on network reliability, and the reputation of SP AusNet.

In a document prepared after the fire, Mr De Silva, SPI‘s Lead Engineer for Lines, gave a frank assessment of options available to SPI:
Option 1: Do Nothing
Leave the existing corroded and aged conductors in place and maintain any conductors that may break and fall the ground.
By continuing with this method, there will be no reduction in the number of breakages and outages and the risks associated with a conductor falling to the ground.....Consequential cost of Do Nothing option is very high and replacement of identified conductors as soon as possible is in the company and public interest.

Option 2: Replace the corroded conductors on reactive basis under maintenance.
This option is to replace sections of conductors when they fail without any planned replacements. This option not only will cause additional USADI [sic] but will give rise to potential bushfire risks. This type of patch work cannot go forever hence at some stage a decision has to be taken to replace large sections of cable and possibly more than what is currently identified...

Considering the negative impact on the business by following this option it is recommended that this option is not pursued.

Option 3: Replace the corroded conductors and rebuild older pole tops where necessary Replacement of the corroded and aged conductors at these sites where conductors have been assessed as being in poor condition is the only solution that is capable of addressing the risk of breakages and the consequent bushfire risks and damage to property, livestock and reputations. By replacing with new conductors the number of fires and outages would be expected to be reduced.

This is the preferred option

On Black Saturday, the consequential cost of SP Ausnet running the corroded, old severely degraded Valley Span to failure was catastrophic.

And SP Ausnet’s own Bushfire Mitigation Manual (The 2005 Bushfire Mitigation Manual: Fault energy management on days of total fire ban), specifically notes that by not suppressing electricity circuit reclosers (shutting off power on damaged lines) “the auto reclose action will re-energise a fault, thus liberating an additional quality of fault energy with a greater ability to start ground level fires; and,

If a fire were to occur from a permanent fault with auto reclose left in service, defence of the situation would be difficult.”

The full submission document can be found here:'s%20opening%20submissions.pdf