Electricity distributor Powercor has been ordered to pay a $2.1 million fine after failing to maintain vegetation around power lines.

The excess vegetation contributed to a severe bushfire near Glenmore, west of Melbourne, in February 2023.

At a hearing in Shepparton Magistrates' Court, Powercor was found guilty on 105 charges, primarily failing to inspect and manage vegetation under and around powerlines. 

This negligence was critical in causing the Glenmore bushfire, which burned approximately 185 hectares over two days, threatened residential properties, and resulted in the destruction of agricultural assets.

Powercor, which oversees powerline maintenance in Victoria's north and west, had knowledge of the excessive vegetation growth near powerlines at Glenmore for over two years prior to the incident but delayed contracting tree cutting services.

On the day of the fire, tree tops, swayed by strong winds, contacted the sagging power lines, igniting the dry foliage below.

“Since the fire, there has not been any enjoyment of summer,” one resident wrote in their victim impact statement. 

“Now it is just a period of time to get through hopefully unscathed. The fear is something you cannot forget.”

In response to this event and the court's findings, Energy Safe Victoria conducted investigations, uncovering 140 instances where Powercor failed to maintain safe clearances around power lines. 

This has led to calls for legislative changes to enhance penalties for such negligence, reflecting the severity and potential consequences of these oversights.

According to Powercor's legal representatives, the company has the financial capability to handle the fine, with an annual budget of about $60 million for powerline maintenance. 

They also stated that Powercor has increased its investment in line inspection and vegetation management post-fire to prevent such incidents in the future.