Media Release: Powercor’s new bushfire safety device switched on in Ararat

18 December, 2019

World-leading technology designed to improve the safety of powerlines in high bushfire risk areas has this week been switched on for the first time in the Ararat region.

The Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) device operates similar to a large safety switch on the network and is designed to minimise the chance of a spark occurring if a powerline comes into contact with the ground or a tree limb, thereby reducing the risk of fires starting from powerline faults.

Work to install the device at the Ararat Zone Substation has been completed and the device was placed into service on Monday 16 December.

The Ararat Zone Substation supports 6,699 customers within the region, supplied by four feeders and 793km of power lines.

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

Powercor REFCL technical director Andrew Bailey said the Ararat device was one of 22 being installed across the Powercor network.

“REFCLs are an important part of our extensive bushfire safety program and are already keeping communities safer on high bushfire risk days.”

While the safety devices are effective all year round, on days of Total Fire Ban they will operate at heightened fault sensitivity, in line with regulatory requirements. When they do operate, crews will patrol the line to determine the cause of the fault and ensure it is safe for the community before switching power back on.

Last month, when a Code Red was declared for some parts of Victoria, the REFCLs detected six permanent phase-to-ground faults and 32 other faults, potentially preventing fire starts.

REFCLs activated 12 times on Total Fire Ban days last summer.

“The technology provides an additional safety measure on our network and is part of our extensive bushfire mitigation program. While these devices have been installed to improve reliability in other parts of the world, this is the first time REFCL devices have been installed to reduce bushfire risk,” Mr Bailey said.

“To install these devices, our electricity network has undergone one of the largest transformations in its history. We have a dedicated team of engineers, planners and crews working to ensure this technology has been installed safely and is operating in line with requirements set by the regulators.”

The REFCL devices are being rolled out in three phases. In the Powercor network, they are already operating in Camperdown, Woodend, Maryborough, Gisborne, Castlemaine, Winchelsea, Colac, and Eaglehawk.

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

For more information about how REFCLs work, visit www.powercor.com.au/safety/bushfire-mitigation-program/rapid-earth-fault-current-limiter/