Network safety always a priority

17 November, 2021

As published in the Weekly Times, 17 November, 2021


By Mark Clarke, Powercor’s general manager, electricity networks

A replacement program for tens of thousands of power poles should dispel fears of widespread wooden pole failures, writes Mark Clark.

In June and October, many of our customers experienced multiple-day power blackouts after fierce winds razed trees, bringing down concrete and wood power poles and wires. Similar winds were felt on the day of the devastating 2018 fires in the South West.

With climate change, we are likely to experience more extreme weather events, so we know our power network must become more resilient.

It’s one of the reasons why for the past three years we have been proactively increasing the number of poles replaced and reinforced annually on our network.

We’ve also improved how we inspect and manage our poles using leading edge technologies and taking on feedback from independent experts and stakeholders.

Our data-driven maintenance and inspection program is tailored for each of our more than 350,000 wooden power poles, taking into consideration factors including the type of wood, their age and prevailing weather conditions at their location.

Energy Safe Victoria has reviewed and accepted our program.

So, to suggest large numbers of our poles are at risk of collapse needlessly concerns our community. (“Fears over rotten power poles in western Victoria’s highest bushfire-risk zones,” WT Nov 10).

Similarly, it is wrong to assume every pole that breaks in gale force winds (like the one recently near Pomborneit) is rotten.

As the business that owns and operates the poles and wires across western Victoria, we seek approval from the Australian Energy Regulator every five years on our expenditure plans.

Our original proposal for the current regulatory period was to replace and reinforce 39,770 poles over five years. Following the AER’s draft decision of 16,969 poles, we revised our proposal to 28,825.

Ultimately, we were disappointed the AER decided in April to fund us for a lesser volume of 22,361 poles.

Six weeks ago, ESV requested us to replace and reinforce a minimum of 34,650 poles over five years. Again, not as high as our original proposal but a big step-up we fully support.

We will submit our plan with these minimum pole volumes in November for ESV approval and have already geared up with a dedicated team to manage pole replacements as a major program of works.

In relation to our future proposals, we’d encourage the economic regulator (AER) and safety regulator (ESV) to align on the investments and programs required to maintain a safe network.

But importantly, every pole we identify as needing to be replaced, is replaced. This has always been our practice. The safety of our communities is our highest priority.

● Mark Clarke is Powercor general manager, electricity networks