Media Release: Largest ever safety upgrade for Ballarat and Bendigo’s electricity network complete

9 December 2020

Bendigo and Ballarat’s electricity networks are better protected than ever before as the installation of high-tech bushfire safety devices in the city is now complete.

Final testing of the Bendigo safety technology took place last week, just after the Fire Danger Period for Greater Bendigo was declared on 30 November, while final testing in Ballarat is taking place this week, ahead of the Fire Danger Period for the City of Ballarat being declared on 14 December.

In Bendigo, the Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) devices are located at the Bendigo Zone Substation and the Bendigo Terminal Station, with devices also placed at the Ballarat North and Ballarat South Zone substations to protect high voltage powerlines across these networks.

Combined with other Central Victorian REFCL devices at Eaglehawk, Castlemaine and Maryborough, the two devices in Bendigo now protect a network of 5,224km of high voltage powerlines supplying 76,957 customers.

The Ballarat devices now protect 2,861km of high voltage powerlines which supply almost 70,000 customers.

Powercor REFCL Technical Director Andrew Bailey said the REFCL rollout was now complete in the Bendigo and Ballarat regions.

“This will be the first summer that all 22kV high voltage powerlines in Bendigo and Ballarat will be protected by REFCL, and it represents an enormous safety upgrade for these regions,” Mr Bailey said.

“This is the single largest upgrade for the electricity network in decades and it’s a great result for our customers and the community.”

REFCL devices operate like a large safety switch on the network and minimise the chance of a spark occurring if a powerline comes into contact with the ground or a tree limb.

REFCLs are being installed in some of the state’s highest bushfire risk areas, as directed by the Victorian Government in response to recommendations from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

The devices at Bendigo and Ballarat have been installed well ahead of the deadline for this group of REFCL devices, known as Tranche 2, which is April next year.

Mr Bailey said as Victoria experiences more extreme weather and longer bushfire seasons, these upgrades were an important part of Powercor’s work to keep the network safe and reliable.

He noted the devices were particularly sensitive on Total Fire Ban days, working quickly to protect against the chance of sparks.

“We do everything we can to prevent fires on Total Fire Ban Days and that’s why our safety devices, including REFCLs, are placed into a more sensitive setting.”

“This can mean that if a fault does occur and a REFCL activates, restoration times can sometimes be longer than normal as our crews patrol the lines to ensure conditions are safe before we turn the power back on.”

Powercor crews have worked through COVID lockdowns to complete upgrades at hundreds of sites across the Bendigo and Ballarat network areas to prepare the network to support the new devices.

This included several planned outages to allow crews to safely conduct upgrades.

“We’d like to thank our customers in Bendigo and Ballarat for their patience as we’ve done this work to make this important safety upgrade,” Mr Bailey said.

Last summer, Powercor had REFCL devices installed in 10 locations and these operated in heightened sensitivity settings on Total Fire Ban days, activating more than 100 times.

This summer, REFCL devices are in operation at 14 zone substations on the Powercor network.

The REFCL is just one of a series of safety devices on the network, designed to reduce bushfire risk and improve safety.

To find out more about how the new devices operate, visit www.powercor.com.au/REFCL