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Ian Burgwin

General Manager of Regulatory Operations

Energy Safe

UAAA Stream

Monday 8th April | 3:30pm


Electric Line Clearance and Risk Based Regulation


Energy Safe is Victoria is the independent safety regulator for electricity, gas and pipelines. Its role is to ensure Victorian gas and electricity industries are safe and meet community expectations. Among its responsibilities are the administration of the Electricity Safety Act 1998 and the Electricity Safety (Electric Line Clearance) Regulations 2020, which adopt the Code of Practice for Electric Line Clearance.

An electrical engineer, Ian Burgwin is the General Manager of Energy Safe’s Regulatory Operations division, which includes a team of vegetation management specialists. The core functions of this team are to ensure organisations responsible for keeping trees clear of electric line are meeting their duties and obligations; protecting Vicotria’s communities against the hazards created when trees are allowed to get too close to electric lines.


Trees and powerlines don’t mix, this is a simple concept that in principle we all understand. The hazards that exist when trees aren’t maintained appropriately managed include:

· fire, particularly concerning with Victoria being recognised as one of the worlds regions most prone to bushfire,

· electric shock or in a worst-case scenario electrocution

· affecting the reliability of electricity supply; placing vulnerable members of the community at risk of harm particularly during extreme weather events.

Another less obvious risk that emerges when trees are allowed to get too close to electric lines is that it means people engaged in line clearance work need to get much closer to the electric lines to perform the work necessary to reestablish required clearances.

In Victoria, as it is the case in the other states, legislation exists that places duties and obligations on organisations to keep trees clear of electric lines to prescribed distances. In Victoria those responsible include:

· ten major electricity companies

· 67 local government organisations

· other organisations such as, Metro Trains, Yarra Trams and Melbourne Water that own or operate their own electricity networks.

The legislation in place is designed to keep trees appropriately clear of electric lines. It is developed on a framework that considers the prevailing electricity safety risks present for any given scenario. It prescribes a minimum clearance space that vegetation must be established and maintained to, thus ensuring those risks are appropriately mitigated.

As the State’s energy safety regulator Energy Safe Victoria is charged with the responsibility of ensuring responsible persons are meeting their electric line clearance duties and obligations. Doing so keeps Victoria safe against the risks that exist if this does not occur as it should.

Energy Safe achieves this by implementing various risk-based safety regulation programs that are designed to test the performance of the regulated entities. The primary programs include:

· safety plan evaluation and approvals

· system auditing

· electric line clearance inspections.

Implementing these programs ensures the responsible persons use contemporary vegetation management systems, processes and procedures that will allow them to meet their duties and obligations. It also validates that the responsible persons deliver outcomes that translates to compliance with the required minimum clearance standards.

When Energy Safe finds electric line clearance risks are not being managed as they should it uses its powers to drive reform. The available enforcement tools include:

· education

· requiring action by issue of notice made under the Act

· issue of infringement notices

· prosecution.

Use of these powers also occurs on the basis of the prevailing risks.

This presentation will provide an overview of the basis of the Victorian legislative framework in place to keep trees appropriately clear of electric lines. It will also provide an overview of how Energy Safe uses data to inform its risk based oversight of the organisations that hold the duties and obligations to keep trees appropriately clear of electric lines.

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