Engineering Bushfire Resilience – Best Practice Approach to Transmission Line Routing

Engineering Bushfire Resilience

Good engineering design will ensure any new infrastructure route does not lead to unsustainable deterioration in grid resilience.

Natural hazard events have significant cost implications for network businesses and the economy more broadly. Maintaining power supply is linked to the ability of communities to absorb and recover from these types of events. Findings from a study commissioned by the Australian Business Round Table for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities indicate that natural disaster events cost the economy on average $13 billion every year, highlighting the need for proactive resilience measures.

In 2020 Victorian’s saw an unprecedented number of cost pass through applications being made by electricity network businesses to recover costs sustained to network infrastructure from natural hazard events including bushfires , severe storms and winds from extreme conditions experienced across Australia in 2019 and early 2020.

The capacity for electricity networks to prepare, absorb and recover from natural hazard events is referred to as resilience; the ability to continually supply energy during and after an incident.

Investing in reliability does not always deliver resilience, but investing in resilience is demonstrated to deliver significant improvements in both resilience and reliability, resulting in beneficial performance outcomes for customers using cost-effective and efficient network investment approaches.14

As most of Australia’s transmission infrastructure was built decades ago, resilience and risk mitigation policies tend to assume a reactive approach to protecting existing essential infrastructure. As we transition to renewable energy and construction of new large-scale electricity transmission networks, all stakeholders have an opportunity and responsibility to proactively engineer resilience by avoiding areas of high risk in the first place.

In the case of the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project (WVTNP), the first of the next generation of transmission investment, it is concerning the preferred final transmission corridor has been routed through one of Victoria's highest risk bushfire prone regions. Best practice bushfire-resilience approaches are not being applied in this case. A resilient approach would have proactively determined this corridor would lead to unsustainable deterioration in grid resilience given the inherent bushfire risks.

This lack of proactive resilience engineering contravenes years of informed research, consultation and government-led resilience reform.

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Summary of Recommendations

The following recommendations relate to planning and development of new overhead transmission infrastructure.

When potential risk to transmission infrastructure can be anticipated, such as routing lines through bushfire prone areas, prevention through elimination of this risk will be the priority. If there is a risk and the risk can be eliminated, strategies will be implemented for a safer, more resilient system.

That good engineering design will ensure that a new transmission line route does not lead to unsustainable deterioration in grid resilience. Where there is an opportunity to increase resilience, the more resilient option will be taken.

That building new or additional transmission lines along a bushfire prone transmission corridor will be avoided. If avoidance is not possible, lines will be buried to improve network resilience.

That new approaches to stakeholder involvement will be developed to support better design, planning and implementation of resilient networks. It is vital to have a framework in place that supports the energy, telecommunications and dependent sectors working collaboratively when planning new networks for resilience to natural disasters such as bushfires.

That governments, network planners, transmission infrastructure operators, communities and individuals will meaningfully consult on network planning to identify key risk areas to infrastructure when faced with extreme weather events. The outcome of consultation will be to build, maintain and improve network resilience.

That framework will be developed to encourage an approach that supports proactive risk reduction and preparedness during transmission route planning rather than a focus on responding to and managing an incident after it has occurred. As the residual risk reduces through proactive avoidance, less effort need be invested in a reactive response.

That historical data be harnessed to enhance forecasting and modelling of future fire weather events to better understand the risk and impacts associated with potential transmission corridors during network planning.

That community resilience, safety and protection of human life be afforded priority over all other considerations, including network route selection.

“We’re building community resilience and safety as we face the impact of climate change and see hotter summers with longer bushfire seasons.”

The Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio MP , Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change

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