Electro-magnetic field concerns (D/99/71)

Case number: D/99/71
Date of Decision: 31 October 2000
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes

A local community group claimed that their electricity company had not abided by commitments it had made at community meetings held in 1997. The group claimed that the company had refused to meet with it about the results of electro-magnetic field (EMF) monitoring and of changes to the load level of a 66kV line erected by the company in early 1997. The community group had been seeking a meeting with the company for about 18 months, and at one point when a meeting had been agreed, the company had cancelled it saying it was not necessary.

In early 1997, the electricity company had erected a new 66kV line through a suburban street to service a large industrial customer. Representatives of the electricity company attended three community meetings at that time and made a number of commitments, including an agreement to consult with residents about any changes in the use of the line as stated to residents at that time. These commitments were confirmed by the minutes of the meetings, which had been taken by the company's representative.

The company advised EIOV that it was happy to meet to discuss any new matters. It said that the increase in the line current over the period was insignificant, the magnetic strength readings in homes alongside the line showed no significant readings, the EMF levels continued to be significantly below accepted Australian and international standards (1000mG) and it had already provided answers to two of the matters the community group wished to discuss. The company also advised that only one customer was connected to the line with no plans to increase the load or connect any other customers. In light of these things, it found it difficult to see the value of further monitoring or consultation.

The community group provided a number of new agenda items as requested by the company. It also confirmed that its position on EMF was that levels below 2mG were desirable.

EIOV reviewed the minutes of the community meetings and concluded that the company had committed to further meetings with the residents. EIOV also noted that the company's draft policy and procedures for the incorporation of EMF factors into the design of new installations/line upgrades had been provided to EIOV in the first half of 1998. While the emphasis of the document was on the planning stages, the commitment to consult and inform was clear. EIOV also examined the load figures for the line and noted that there had been an increase from the level that the company had committed to at the initial community meetings.

In making her Binding Decision, the Ombudsman noted that it was not the role of EIOV to set the standards for EMF. She suggested that the community group raise concerns about the standards themselves with the National Health and Medical Research Council, the appropriate regulatory body.

The Ombudsman focussed her decision on the commitments the company made to residents at the community meetings and concluded that the company had made public commitments that it did not honour. She stated that the company 's actions demonstrated a poor approach to community consultation and did not reflect the spirit of its own policy manual.

The Ombudsman decided that a fair and reasonable outcome would be for the company to continue the annual monitoring of EMF levels for the next three years. She directed that the company attend a meeting with the community group within a specified period to identify 15 sites for the annual monitoring. She further directed that the company publish the results of the monitoring in the local paper, liaise with the local council to facilitate public viewing of the results, and call and hold an annual public meeting on the results, with specific invitations to be sent to the members of the community group that brought the complaint.