Answers Needed on Blackout Delays

Victorians deserve answers regarding the 48-hour blackout that has plagued households across the state following Wednesday’s storms, Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources Robert Clark said.

Standards for electricity industry reliability in Victoria are set by the Essential Services Commission, a body established by the Labor Government. In the 1999 election campaign, Labor pledged it would:

“Guarantee reliable supplies of gas, water and electricity through an Essential Services Commission with tough new powers.”

Clearly, Victoria’s electricity supplies have not been reliable over the last 48 hours, despite Labor’s “guarantee”, and in recent years reliability has been getting worse, not better.

“Power industry reliability has deteriorated in recent years, after the great improvements that were achieved by the reforms and privatisation of the 1990s,” Mr Clark said.

In 2004, the average customer was off-supply for 132.3 minutes during the year, compared with 510 per customer minutes off supply in 1989-90.

However, by 2006 – the latest available figures published by the Essential Services Commission – average off-supply time had risen to 165.4 minutes, the highest figure since 1998.

“Victorians are entitled to answers about whether more could and should have been done to restore power supplies after the destructive storms of recent days, and whether changes are needed to improve power industry performance in the future,” Mr Clark said.

“Thousands of Victorians have been without electricity for two days and have been unable to get answers from power companies about when power will be restored.

“The Government needs to establish an independent review of what has happened with this week’s power blackouts and with reliability performance overall. The review needs to be carried out by a respected and impartial person independent of government and the Essential Services Commission.

“The review needs to examine whether or not the delays have been reasonable given the magnitude of this week’s storms, whether the reliability standards that have been set by the Essential Services Commission are appropriate, and whether the power companies have been meeting their obligations.

“The review needs to focus in particular on how the reliability standards and the power companies cope with major disruption events, and whether there are adequate arrangements for keeping customers informed about what is going on,” Mr Clark said.