Electromagnetic fields - Inadequate Community Consultation (D/97/38)

Case number: D/97/38
Date of Decision: 10 March 1998
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes

A customer contacted EIOV to complain that her electricity company had erected an additional 66 kV high voltage line outside her residence to service a large local business. The customer was concerned about the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on her family. She also considered that the company failed to follow the Electricity Supply Association of Australia (ESAA) policy of "prudent avoidance" with regards to EMFs and that it did not have sufficient regard to EMF considerations in designing the new line. The customer did not believe the company had undertaken sufficient measurements prior to designing the line to enable projected increases or measurements post the line going "live". She also felt that the company had not provided adequate information to the community in regard to its intentions regarding the line and that consultation with affected residents was inadequate.

EIOV conducted a lengthy investigation into the customer's issues, including: requesting and analysing detailed information from the company; examining the company's obligations under legislation and regulation; examining scientific reports from Australia and overseas; viewing the policy statements of the Electricity Supply Association of Australia (ESAA); and seeking extensive legal and technical advice. EIOV also held a Conciliation Conference which failed to resolve all outstanding issues to the satisfaction of both parties.

In determining this case the Ombudsman found that:

  • although the company used standard design for the upgrade of the line, EMF issues were not articulated in the design
  • EMF measurements post the commissioning of the line were clearly well within Australian and international safety standards
  • the company's provision of information to residents and liaison with the local council was inadequate and on occasions misleading
  • the company could not provide information or documentation to establish that it clearly and transparently considered the issue of EMFs prior to the line's installation and therefore that the company was unable to demonstrate that it practiced prudent avoidance in line with its industry association's policies.

The Ombudsman acknowledged that the company was currently developing draft policy and procedure for the incorporation of EMF considerations into the design of new lines. She directed the company to complete this policy and procedure to include revised information and consultation processes for affected residents and also to specify appropriate EMF measurement procedures prior to design of any new works to allow direct comparisons post the commissioning of works. This policy document was submitted to EIOV for comment only.

The Ombudsman noted that this company was not the only electricity company to be faced with adequate attention to EMF issues in the design and installation of new lines. As this issue has industry wide application the Ombudsman asked the Regulator-General to clarity whether the current regulatory framework adequately addresses these issues.

The Ombudsman also directed the company to carry out further EMF measurements for the customer's residence for a period of 12 months using a nominated independent laboratory, involving a minimum of 3 readings and reports.