Yarra Ranges Council fined

Yarra Ranges Council has been fined for not keeping powerlines clear from trees. Picture: ON FILE.

By Mikayla van Loon

Yarra Ranges Council have been issued a number of fines from Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) for not keeping powerlines clear of tree overgrowth.

Inspections by the authority found Upwey, Kilsyth, Lilydale and Healesville to each have line clearance breaches in bushfire prone areas in February.

The council’s infringements total $36,984, noted by ESV as the most a Victorian council has been handed since it was granted the ability to issue fines under the Electricity Safety Act 1998 in June 2022.

Yarra Ranges Council CEO Tammi Rose said pruning “has always been, and remains, a priority” but weather conditions last year led to high regrowth.

“Wet weather conditions last year resulted in significant regrowth on many of the trees we have near power lines – in some cases, growth of up to three metres,” she said.

The misjudgement of the height of the trees during the inspection period meant the eight trees did not meet the requirements under the Code of Practice for Electric Line Clearance.

“We were issued with eight work orders and a fine for this, which we promptly actioned – all eight trees now meet the code, and we’ll be working to ensure this does not happen again,” Ms Rose said.

ESV has issued a total of 36 line clearance fines to various councils and major electricity companies in the 12 months since the powers were granted.

Energy Safe CEO Leanne Hughson said in this instance, Yarra Ranges Council’s lines clearance performance was unacceptable.

“It’s the responsibility of councils to ensure trees and vegetation in their jurisdictions are kept safely clear of the powerline network,” Ms Hughson said.

Ms Rose said with such a large scope of trees that fall within bushfire risk areas, Yarra Ranges Council is committed to ensuring the safety of everyone.

“The council works closely with a contractor to manage the pruning of trees around our region, to ensure electrical line clearance and safety for our community members,” she said.

“We manage in excess of 20,000 trees for line clearance every year, with priority areas in central Healesville, the urban areas of Lilydale, Chirnside Park, Mooroolbark and Kilsyth, and the southern Dandenongs, including Belgrave, Belgrave South, Belgrave Heights, Upwey and Tecoma.

“Safety around power lines is critical for everyone in the community – whether you’re a community member, a contractor working nearby or a Council keeping nearby trees pruned back.”

The imposing of fines has added another layer of ensuring councils and electricity companies comply with the codes, with other measures including warnings and legal action.

When deciding whether to take enforcement action, ESV considers various factors, including the severity of the non-compliance and the responsible person’s conduct.