Powercor announces safety improvements since Black Saturday

A forest at Buckland Gap near Beechworth, Victoria, after the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires

Powercor has announced that it is confident it will fully deliver the safety improvements sought through the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission that was established after Black Saturday, 2009.

“Black Saturday changed the way our business manages and operates the electricity network,” Powercor says.

“The lessons our industry learnt from that devastating day are always front of mind and drives how we approach safety.”

Powercor has fully implemented five of the relevant Royal Commission recommendations, and the remaining two that are associated with the comapny are well underway it says, in line with regulated timelines.

The two remaining recommendations are in relation to the Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) Automatic Circuit Reclosers (ACRs) and the installation of Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCLs).

Powercor says by the end of 2019, all SWER lines will have ACRs upgraded to improve the safety systems and 320km of SWER lines in extreme risk areas will have been replaced with underground cables.

Related article:New voltage standards to prevent bushfires in Victoria

This is 12 months ahead of the legislated deadline.

In terms of REFCLs, the 961km of high voltage bare conductor lines in Powercor’s extreme risk areas will have REFCLs installed to improve safety and reduce bushfire risk.

Powercor has installed eight REFCLs across the network, ahead of the legislated April 30 deadline for the first of three tranches.

The technology is similar to a large safety switch on the network and it is designed to greatly reduce the risk of a spark occurring if a powerline comes into contact with the ground or a tree limb.

Powercor says it is committed to delivering the REFCL program in the interests of community safety.

Since 2012, when consistent industry monitoring of the number of fire starts from electrical assets began, there has been an overall decrease in fire starts.

In the Powercor distribution area, the number of fire starts from network assets decreased by 45 per cent between 2012/2013 and 2017/2018.

In December 2018, Powercor indicated it would plead guilty to multiple charges brought by Energy Safe Victoria for failing to keep trees clear of powerlines in January 2018, which resulted in grass fires.