EnergySafe Magazine Summer 2019, issue 56 - Page 5

esv.vic.gov.au Director of Energy Safety Paul Fearon has announced his retirement. Paul reflects on some of the challenges and achievements after decade at the helm of Victoria’s energy safety regulator. “I think my biggest personal achievement has been developing an organisation and its people, to have the confidence and capacity to do its job as a regulator. It is pleasing to see how staff and individuals can play such a strong role across all aspects of regulation, which includes standards, working with communities and many stakeholders. “Some of the bigger issues around climate and new technologies were beginning to gather momentum, and the new national regulatory agencies were laying down new rules that would influence the way the market and industry structure would evolve. We also started to see significant aggregation and consolidation in the industry.” “So, it’s really their achievements that are important. I am proud of the fact that notwithstanding the challenges along the way and the issues we’ve had to deal with, that ESV has maintained a reputation for being a regulator with integrity.” Maintaining morale Challenging arrival Mr Fearon arrived at ESV, as Acting Director, at a challenging time: “It was just after the catastrophe of Black Saturday and the sudden departure of the previous director. I was thrust into an environment where the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was already underway and I was subjected to a detailed cross- examination by the counsel assisting, Jack Rush QC. This certainly brought focus to what my role was going to be.” Mr Fearon said the 2009 bushfires highlighted the crisis of confidence – particularly for external stakeholders – in ESV. He said Black Saturday was the first significant occasion when the existing industry had been examined in detail since privatisation. “When I reflect on my 10-year term, I see it as two five-year terms. The first goal was to give meaning to an organisation suddenly pushed into the spotlight. The criticism was withering, and there was a real danger it could have been taken personally by the people who were otherwise very capable, talented and professional. “So, the first priority was to maintain morale, particularly in the infrastructure space where ESV’s role had been, hitherto, very small and directed to essentially prescriptive elements of the safety regime. The second five-year term followed a period where many of the initial changes to address bushfire risk had already been taken. It was now about addressing longer-term issues, around conceptual and strategic rationale; how we should regulate, evolve our understanding of risk and how best to test, challenge and expose those who have the duty to community and consumers. Mr Fearon said that during this time root and branch reviews were carried out on of all the operating areas as well as the leadership structures and culture of ESV, “because one person was never going to do it alone.” The Grimes Review Mr Fearon welcomed the 2017 Review of Victoria's Electricity and Gas Network Safety Framework. “It’s pleasing to see that ESV’s future will be led by the combined wisdom of more than one person,” he said. “It’s always challenging when an organisation is put under the spotlight but was a made a lot easier by the appointment of Paul Grimes – a person of great integrity and independence. His review was rigorous but very fair and balanced. No adverse findings were made but many significant opportunities to improve were identified. His review vindicated the work we had done previously, but certainly pointed to those aspects of regulation that required a lot more work.” The future Mr Fearon said the future of energy was, by any measure, becoming more complex, requiring all regulators to work far more closely with policy-makers to address the source of issues as they relate to market and industry structures. “I believe other key challenges are skill development, the speed of technological development, new equipment, changes in markets, impact on the quality of product, uncertainty as to national and global pressures on the energy sector, and the diversity of new entrants and players in the market. Continue on page 06. 05