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Tathra fires: Government and power regulator may have questions to answer on network funding cuts

Paul Lister - Thursday, March 22, 2018

The NSW RFS preliminary investigation into the Tathra bushfires is expected to be released today and if, as anticipated, the NSW Government owned Essential Energy is identified as a possible ignition source the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and NSW Government will have serious questions to answer following massive power line maintenance funding cuts.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) today called on the Australian Energy Regulator and NSW Government to explain massive maintenance funding cuts which the union believes has the potential to impact on public safety across NSW.

“If, as anticipated, the initial report by the RFS finds Essential Energy assets played a part in starting the Tathra fire, the Australian Energy Regulator and the State Government as the owners of Essential Energy have a moral oibligation to explain how their massive maintenance funding cuts may be placing the public at serious risk.” said Justin Page ETU NSW Assistant Secretary.

“The NSW Government has been focused on cutting costs at Essential Energy including slashing maintenance and capital works expenditure while at the same time maximising profit,”

“The NSW Government as owner of this aging and complex network and the Australian Energy Regulator should be focused on safety and reliability ahead of cost cutting which is not currently the case leading to potential impacts on network reliability and public safety.” said Mr Page

“If electricity infrastructure is identified as a possible ignition source we believe the upcoming Keelty Inquiry into the disaster at Tathra must look at these significant and underlying structural issues given their potential to impact on public safety.”

“Our thoughts are with the people of Tathra that have been impacted by this tragic event and we believe they deserve answers if today’s RFS report finds that electricity infrastructure was the ignition source of this fire."

In its own documents Essential Energy admits that it has shifted from an “Asset Maintenance” to an “Asset management” methodology while over the past seven years Essential Energy has sacked 1,700 employees representing almost 40% of its workforce.

Essential Energy has also massively underspent on it’s operating expenditure budget to the tune of $129 million in 217 and they have slashed capital expenditure by 38% since 2012 as a result of the Australian Energy Regulator limiting how much the company can spend.

Conversely, profit, net profit and distributions to the state Government have grown significantly in recent years.

“These numbers paint a compelling picture; the Regulator, the business and the NSW Government have combined to create a situation where the workforce has been cut to the bone and maintenance and safety work which any reasonable people would consider critical has also been cut back.”