May 4, 2017

Wind farm company sued over bushfire caused by electrocuted crow

Matthew Spencer | The Australian | May 4, 2017 |

The owners of a wind farm near Canberra are being sued for sparking a catastrophic bushfire in January, in what is believed to be the first class action of its type in Australia.

Victorian firm Maddens Lawyers filed the class action against Infigen Energy Ltd in the NSW Supreme Court after a crow electrocuted by a transmission line carrying power from the company’s Woodlawn wind farm sparked the fire, which burned 3400ha and caused up to $20 million damage.

The statement of claim, filed on behalf of lead plaintiffs Fred Kuhn and Liz Stewart of Mount Fairy, east of Canberra, alleges Infigen was aware of the risk a bird strike on its high-voltage ­infrastructure could cause a fire.

The blaze, known as the Currandooley fire, was caused when a crow connected with overhead electrical infrastructure, caught alight and dropped into dry foliage beneath the powerline that transfers electricity from the Woodlawn farm to a substation at the nearby Capital wind farm.

Both wind farms, the power line and substation are owned and operated by Infigen Energy.

The company was aware of numerous previous incidents of bird strike on its electrical infrastructure but failed to take appropriate steps to address the risk until after the fire, the statement of claim alleges.

Thirty-three individual claim­ants from 22 properties affected by the January 17 wildfire have instructed Maddens to seek compensation for their loss and damage.

The law firm said it was aware of six more properties affected by the fire but was yet to receive instructions from those owners.

Maddens’ class-action principal Brendan Pendergast said Infigen was aware of the bird strike problem but had failed to address issues such as managing fuel load under the transmission line.

However, the company slashed grass and installed compacted gravel under each pole of the transmission line after the fire, Mr Pendergast said.

He said the company could also have instituted some design fixes on the transmission line to prevent birds being electrocuted.

“It is regrettable that these simple steps were not taken sooner,” Mr Pendergast said. “If that had been done, this fire would not have occurred.”

Maddens has been involved in bushfire litigation since Ash Wednesday in 1983, and its cases include Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday catastrophe.

Mr Pendergast said he believed the Currandooley class action was the first bushfire litigation against a wind farm.

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