Media Release: New bushfire safety device switched on in Bendigo

2 September

An advanced safety device installed in Bendigo by electricity distributor Powercor was commissioned last month and is now in service, following a delicate operation to lay new electrical cable beneath one of Bendigo’s most historic buildings.
The Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) device at the Bendigo zone substation protects 516 kilometres of 22kV powerlines in high bushfire-risk country across the region. It is the fourth location in Central Victoria to be protected by REFCL technology, with devices already installed in Eaglehawk, Castlemaine and Maryborough. Work to install a fifth, at the Bendigo Terminal Station, is well progressed and expected to be in-service later this year. When all Central Victorian devices are completed, a network of 5,224km of high voltage powerlines will be protected, including 34 feeder lines covering 76,957 customers.
Powercor REFCL Technical Director Andrew Bailey said the REFCL rollout was making the network in central Victoria even safer.
“As we face more extreme summer seasons, Powercor’s bushfire mitigation activities are keeping communities safer by reducing the risk of fires starting from assets,” Mr Bailey said.
While all REFCL installations are complex, Mr Bailey said the Bendigo device was made more challenging due to a delicate drilling operation beneath one of the city’s most historic buildings.
The ‘Beehive’ building, built in the mid-19th century, originally acted as a stock and mining exchange and was designed by acclaimed architect Charles Webb, who is also credited with the Windsor Hotel, Alfred Hospital and Royal Arcade buildings in Melbourne.
With the approval of Heritage Victoria, specialist teams used boring machines fitted with vibration sensors to tunnel under parkland, the Midland Highway, historical tramways and the ‘Beehive’ building itself to run a new electricity cable to support the installation of new bushfire prevention technology.
“Our crews understood the importance of the site and of the building, so we took extra steps to ensure we had as little impact as possible,” Mr Bailey said.
“It was a delicate operation but the team did a fantastic job and the new cable is now in place.”
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. 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. 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 powercor.com.au/REFCL