Unplanned supply interruption (D/98/38)

Case number: D/98/38
Date of Decision: 12 February 1999
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes

A commercial egg farmer contacted EIOV and stated he had been unable to obtain reimbursement from his electricity company for losses experienced during an unplanned interruption to electricity in February 1997.

The customer stated that he had experienced an unplanned interruption to supply of almost 5 hours. The temperature at the time was approximately 42 degrees Celsius. The customer stated that he had telephoned his electricity company as soon as he was made aware of the problem (and subsequently at various intervals), and that the recorded messages provided conflicting information with regard to the time at which power would be restored, making it difficult for him to assess the risk to his chickens.

The customer stated that he contacted his electrician and his mechanic as he was unable to start his back-up generator. They arrived approximately 2 hours after the commencement of the interruption to supply, at approximately 3.30pm. The customer said he was not unduly concerned at this time, as he understood from the recorded messages on his electricity company's fault line that restoration of supply would not be long. However, whilst his chickens were sprayed with water during this period, they started to die at approximately 5.00pm. His generator was started at 5.30pm and supply restored at 5.53pm. The customer claimed loss of livestock and egg production to the value of $31,907.

His electricity company advised him that it did not consider itself liable for his losses, as the supply failure was not its fault. The customer believed that the supply failure occurred because his electricity company was unable to meet the demand for electricity during the heatwave.

EIOV opened an investigation, and as a resolution was not able to be reached, the case was referred to the Ombudsman for a binding decision.

EIOV requested and received from the electricity company a detailed report of the incident. The electricity company originally advised that the cause of the initial supply failure had not been found, and that the delay in restoring power was a "combination of cold load pick up and the day's abnormally high temperature". It subsequently provided substantial technical information on the problem, including the possibility of a "permanent fault on the feeder" and possible vandalism. The Office of the Regulator General's "Electricity Distribution Businesses Ð Comparative Performance January Ð June 1998" Report identified the feeder at the cause of the interruption as one of the company's poorly performing feeders, with an average of 19.2 interruptions per customer during 1996/1997.

EIOV contacted the egg farmer's Registered Electrical Contractor and mechanic who both confirmed that although a generator was located at the farm it was not installed.

During the investigation the electricity company noted that the messages provided on the faults line may have been misleading in that they bear no relation to actual knowledge of restoration times but are a standard initial 2 hour notice, followed by hourly notices if supply is still not restored. The electricity company's actions with regard to updating recorded messages are in line with industry practice and the Ombudsman noted that this was clearly an area for industry improvement.

The company knew the supply from this feeder was unreliable and the feeder had been named in an Office of the Regulator-General report. By the same token the egg farmer had experienced previous interruptions to supply and should have known to protect his business as the supply was unreliable.

Accordingly, the Ombudsman found that, although the supplier provided the occasion for the loss to occur, the actual loss was caused by the customer's failure to have ready for use a connected and well-maintained alternative source of power.

The Ombudsman determined that the supplier pay to the customer a total of $6,381.40, this sum representing 20% of his total claim.