Noisy electrical transformer (D/98/24)

Case number: D/98/24
Date of Decision: 19 January 1999
Decision accepted by the customer: No

A customer contacted EIOV to complain about the noise coming from a transformer that was located at the front of his property.

The customer stated that prior to purchasing the property the owner / builder had advised him that the electricity company was going to relocate the existing transformer. After purchasing the property, the customer contacted the company seeking relocation of the transformer.

After testing the noise levels of the transformer and finding them to be within Australian Standards, the company changed the transformer. However, the customer advised that the replacement transformer was larger and produced noise levels that were higher, particularly in wet weather. The customer stated that the noise level was intrusive and affected both his and his wife's ability to sleep.

The customer was also unhappy that the transformer had leaked oil on his driveway and that when changing over the transformer, the company had failed to clean up debris left on his property and had damaged his garden and pavers. The customer was also worried about the safety of the transformer.

In its investigation, EIOV requested documentation from the company regarding the matter, including any technical reports it had received regarding the transformer and the noise emissions. Information subsequently provided by the company confirmed the customer's allegations regarding the transformer leaking oil and the damage to and debris left on the customer's property.

EIOV also sought independent technical advice regarding the safety of the transformer and the issue of transformer noise. EIOV was subsequently advised that there were minimal safety concerns regarding the transformer and its operation. The independent consultant also advised EIOV that while the noise emitted from the existing transformer was within the 'standard limit' of the relevant Australian Standard, it did not comply with the 'reduced limit' of the Australian Standard.

EIOV asked the company to advise whether it had a policy on when the reduced limit, rather than the standard limit, applied. However, the company did not provide details of any such policy to EIOV.

In seeking to determine whether the 'standard' or 'reduced' noise limit should apply, EIOV obtained advice on the matter from both the Office of the Regulator-General (ORG) and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

The ORG advised EIOV that it did not have a policy on when the 'reduced limit' should apply. After carrying out noise level tests on the transformer the EPA advised EIOV that the noise level of the transformer breached the State Environment Protection Policy N-1, which was a guideline for the control of noise from commerce, industry and trade.

EIOV also investigated industry practice regarding transformer noise levels and found that other distribution businesses took into account the EPA's N-1 policy as well as the Australian Standard. The company's Draft Environment Manual also acknowledged the N-1 policy as a relevant standard for transformer noise levels.

EIOV visited the site and listened to noise levels from the transformer. These were found to be comparatively high in relation to other transformers in the area.

EIOV and its independent technical adviser also consulted with the local Council, in order to ascertain the feasibility of any options for relocation of the transformer. However, it was established that all available options involved a potential disadvantage to third parties and/or a planning permit process outside the scope of EIOV scheme.

As the customer remained dissatisfied with the company's response and actions regarding the transformer the matter proceeded to a Binding Decision.

In making her Binding Decision, the Ombudsman took into account a number of factors, including the results of the transformer noise tests, the customer's particular situation, independent technical advice and legal advice.

The Ombudsman considered both the Australian Standard and the EPA's N-1 policy to be relevant standards for noise emissions and found it reasonable that the Australian Standard 'reduced limit' should apply to the transformer, as it was located in a residential area.

Taking into account the results of both transformer noise tests, together with independent technical advice and the EPA's advice, the Ombudsman considered that the noise level of the existing transformer had been excessive and intrusive and had caused the customer and his wife considerable distress.

While the Ombudsman did not believe that the company should be required to relocate the transformer, particularly due to the impact this would have on third parties, the Ombudsman considered it just and fair that the company should replace the existing transformer with a more recent model that was smaller and was more likely to have lower noise emissions that the existing transformer.

The Ombudsman also determined that the company pay the customer the sum of $3,500.00, for the loss of enjoyment of life and inconvenience that the customer and his wife had experienced as a result of the excessive noise from the transformer.