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Improving powerline safety with tree clearance regulation

ESV has stepped up its regulation of Victorian council pruning practices, reducing safety and reliability risks associated with trees touching powerlines.

While ESV understands the need to protect Victoria’s iconic tree-lined streets, it has stepped up its focus on council tree-clearance processes over the past two years by increasing inspections to reduce this risk of fire and power supply interruptions.

Almost 12,000 electric line span (the distance between two power poles) inspections have taken place since March 2019 with about 4,000, or 34 per cent, not meeting safety requirements.

About 1,900, or 18 per cent, were classified as safety critical, meaning trees were touching or very close to touching powerlines.

As a result of this increased focus, three Melbourne councils have made significant progress to improve tree clearance compliance rates and are working to achieve further improvements.

The City of Boroondara, starting from a low base, improved its compliance by almost 40 per cent during this period.

While Maribyrnong City Council and the City of Whittlesea’s initial compliance was comparatively better, both also enjoyed compliance improvements of 26 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

To highlight the dangers of trees meeting powerlines, ESV has produced a short animation, which also alerts audiences to council’s responsibilities. You can view the animation here.

About 1,100 Victorian power outages are caused by trees each year affecting 400,000 residences or businesses.

While the social and environmental importance of trees will never be overlooked, community safety and the prevention of power outages, fires and in some cases, death by electrocution, is ESV’s highest priority.

Quotes attributable to ESV Commissioner and Chairperson Marnie Williams

“Trees and powerlines need to co-exist and that means sometimes trees need to pruned to ensure community safety.”

“As a keen gardener and nature lover, I enjoy nothing more than a tree-lined street.”

“But allowing trees to get too close to powerlines creates electricity safety risks that can result in power outages, electric shocks or fires.”

“We are not talking about a wholesale regime where healthy trees are cut down to a stump, but rather a system whereby councils put regular tree pruning processes in place. Victorians have a right to the environmental and social benefits provided by Victoria’s urban forest.”

Statement regarding tree clearance in regional Victoria

Across regional Victoria, the majority of vegetation clearing responsibilities sit with electricity distribution businesses. Councils are responsible for clearance of trees on public land in some regional cities and townships.
Since July 2020, ESV has inspected 7,773 spans in high bushfire risk areas across regional Victoria.
Of that number, ESV has identified 896 non-compliant spans (or 11.5 per cent) with 87 (or 1.1 per cent) of those considered major noncompliance and potentially hazardous.
Where ESV identifies non-compliance it requires the electricity distribution businesses and councils to prune the vegetation away from the electric lines in timeframes specified by ESV, which are based on the risk that is present.

Media contact

Adrian Bernecich 0437 729 194 | adrian.bernecich@energysafe.vic.gov.au

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