by JOHN MIKKELSEN – I RECENTLY wrote an article titled Hello Darkness My Old Friend, which started out describing a romantic candle-lit dinner with my wife, courtesy of an unscheduled power blackout.
I pointed out we were fortunate enough to have been able to prepare dinner on a gas stove top and that it was possibly a foretaste of the future.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) had warned of the likelihood of rolling blackouts with the return of an El Niño weather pattern bringing a hot, dry summer with more wind-less days.
But that was just the start of another untold story as we soon discovered the blackout and power surge had damaged the electric controls of a security gate on our property.
A repair technician provided a quote for $1400 confirming the damage, which he said was obviously linked to the blackout.
No big deal, our insurance should cover that … except the excess meant a payout would represent only about a quarter of the repair cost.
The gate is considered part of the building; if it had been included under the contents cover, the settlement would have been more like three-quarters of the cost.
But, unfortunately, it would be hard to dispute the logic that it’s not actually inside the house even if it’s not actually attached to the building!
C’est la vie, try another approach in a bid to offset the surging costs of living and soaring power prices under Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen, backed by a compliant Queensland Government.
Both are making a mad rush to embrace so-called renewables at the expense of much cheaper coal and gas.
So I contacted the State Government-owned Energex, which is responsible for power distribution throughout South East Queensland.
They initially confirmed they would consider claims for damages with the following proviso: “We don’t accept responsibility for damage or losses that occur as a result of events that are outside our control, including:
- The effect of wildlife or vegetation contacting powerlines or apparatus;
- Natural disasters, storms or lightning related damage and their effect;
- Power interruptions where the cause can’t be reliably determined;
- Acts by others, such as vehicles contacting power poles or vandalism;
- Planned power interruptions as part of our normal work;
- Instruction by a controlling authority to interrupt power.
That sounded fair enough, so I filled in a claim form providing all the relevant details which seemed to comply with the above rules. Or so I thought.
A couple of weeks later I received a reply which Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud to have penned.
It opened with an admission that an investigation into my claim had been completed, an unplanned outage had occurred at the time stated, crews had attended and carried out the necessary repairs.
Well that sounded promising … but it was all downhill from there: “As an electricity entity, Energex has a duty to build, maintain and operate the network safely.
“Energex maintains its network in line with all relevant statutory requirements, industry standards, codes of practice and with manufacturer’s recommendations for each asset type.
“Energex has an active maintenance program in place in which regular inspections are carried out on all assets. Notwithstanding that Energex network is maintained and operated in accordance with all relevant statutory requirements, industry standards and codes of practice, the decision to accept or deny liability will always be determined having regard to the facts of each claim.”
“Energex is of the view that it is not liable for any damages sustained as a result of the incident that occurred on 11/09/2023. A review of our asset maintenance records indicates that the asset in question had been inspected and maintained in line with relevant industry standards. Previous inspection had not identified any indication of poor equipment condition or risk of failure.
“Unfortunately, power outages and adverse events are unavoidable in the operation of an electricity distribution network and the mere occurrence of such an event does not automatically mean that we are liable for resulting damage.
“In this regard, we draw your attention to the terms of our standard connection contract, the Queensland Electricity Connection Manual, and our website, all of which make clear the risks of outages and adverse events when connected to our network.
“We advise customers to install protective equipment to limit potential damage from such events, but even then, we can make no assurances as to what if any protective equipment will be sufficient to protect against all such events…
“In recognition of these unavoidable risks, the distributor of electricity (Energex Corporation Limited) has a statutory immunity under section 316 of the National Energy Retail Law (Queensland), which provides: ‘A retailer or distributor, or an officer or employee of a retailer or distributor, does not incur any civil monetary liability for any partial or total failure to supply energy unless the failure is due to an act or omission done or made by the retailer or distributor or the officer or employee of the retailer or distributor, in bad faith or through negligence.’
“The incident on September 11 falls within this statutory immunity. Under these circumstances, and given we have been unable to identify any fault or negligence on behalf of Energex, unfortunately we are unable to consider reimbursement towards your costs…”
I imagine power consumers in other States would probably face similar bureaucratic hurdles that set the bar too high for mere consumers.
Energex has admitted the blackout was the result of an unexplained failure of their equipment but because they didn’t see it coming during routine checks, they are not liable for any damages.
Is there a better example of Catch 22 in action: “A paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules or limitations.”
The term was coined by Joseph Heller, who used it in his 1961 novel Catch-22.
Catch-22s often result from rules, regulations or procedures that an individual is subject to, but has no control over, because to fight the rule is to accept it.
Another example is a situation in which someone is in need of something that can only be had by not being in need of it.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been caught, but one thing seems certain; with darker times ahead, the Energy Minister will likely live up to his nickname, Blackout Bowen.PC