Voltage variation (D/2001/78)

Case number: D/2001/78
Date of Decision: 21 June 2002
Decision accepted by the customer: No

The customer first contacted EWOV to complain about voltage variation. He noted that the company had admitted that the voltage dropped regularly, and then surged back up, and that this may have caused damage to his equipment. He complained that light globes had blown, that his toaster had burnt out, and that the circuit breaker on the premises’ switchboard frequently operated when he had a number of appliances operating. He had been informed by the company that there was a problem with the regulator on the transformer, but that this had not been repaired, despite the company’s promises to do so. The customer was dissatisfied with the time taken by the company to respond to his concerns.

In a letter dated 5 December 2000, the company had acknowledged that the voltage at the customer’s premises was outside the limits prescribed by the Supply and Sale Code 1997.

The letter identified the cause of the voltage drop as the High Voltage Regulator. Adjustments to the relevant Regulator were proposed in this letter, and it was noted that the voltage variations were considered, “…minor in nature”, in technical terms. It was also noted that the transformer supplying the property was operating correctly.

The company also noted that problems with the circuit breaker at the customer’s premises may have resulted in some of the appliances switching off. It stated that this was due to an overload on the circuit, and the company recommended that the circuit breaker be enhanced or modified so that it could operate successfully.

Voltage fluctuation issue

Further testing by the company indicated that the voltage was outside the acceptable limits as determined by the Electricity Distribution Code. In particular, there was a regular voltage drop around 1:00 am – 2:00 am each day.

The company took various actions in an attempt to rectify the voltage problems, culminating in the replacement of the transformer supplying the customer’s property. Subsequent testing indicated that the voltage levels at the customer’s premises returned to the levels required by the Electricity Distribution Code.

The company also advised EWOV that it had programmed a project for 2003 to augment the relevant Feeder and/or install a new high voltage regulator. Until this work was completed, the company planned to keep the low voltage regulator in place on the customer’s property.

Independent technical advice

EWOV’s independent technical consultant analysed the voltage as indicated on the company’s testing results, and also conducted separate tests. He concluded that:

  • the voltage variation was extreme, exceeding both the upper and the lower limits as defined in the Electricity Distribution Code
  • the cause of the voltage variation appeared to be prior to the point of supply, namely the transformer pole on the property, and
  • the ongoing voltage variation problems would have resulted in the expected life and operation of the customer’s electrical equipment being diminished.

Damage to appliances

The customer advised EWOV that he believed that many of his appliances had been damaged by the ongoing voltage fluctuations. EWOV’s independent technical consultant concluded that the voltage fluctuations were likely to have contributed to a diminution in the life and operation of the customer’s equipment. An assessment of the appliances indicated that the total value of the damage was $1,390.

Quality of supply issues

The customer advised EWOV that despite the works that were completed in March 2002 and subsequent voltage tests showing supply to be within the limits of the Electricity Distribution Code, he was still dissatisfied with the quality of supply at his property. He complained that when he put on more than one appliance in the kitchen he would lose supply.

EWOV’s independent technical consultant has indicated that in order to alleviate the internal problems being experienced, it would be advisable to:

  • spread the electrical load more evenly over the house’s two circuits
  • have the wiring assessed to determine if the rating of the circuit breakers can be increased to 20 amps (this is about 4 amps higher than the existing rating)
  • have an additional circuit installed to help share the electrical load.

As negotiations failed the resolve the matter, the Ombudsman issued a Binding Decision, noting that the voltage variations were extreme, and that the company’s assessment of them as minor was in stark contrast with EWOV’s technical advice. She concluded that the amount of time to rectify the problems was inordinate, and that this had had a cumulative effect, both in terms of damage to appliances, and customer service. In addition, she concluded that the voltage variation problems caused by the distribution system had now been rectified, and that the ongoing problems were the responsibility of the customer to solve.

She determined that the company pay the customer $1,390, representing his damaged appliances, and a further $800 as a customer service payment.

She also directed that the company advise the customer in writing of its progress towards augmenting the relevant Feeder.

The customer did not respond to the Ombudsman’s decision, so it was assumed that he did not accept it. Accordingly, the company was released from any obligations under the Binding Decision.