Powercor Bushfire REFCL Victoria
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Powercor is rolling out bushfire mitigation programs across regional Victoria using a range of technologies and safety devices.

Crews have begun upgrading the local distribution network to support the installation of Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter devices (REFCLs) at the Koroit Zone Substation, the Bendigo Zone Substation and Bendigo Terminal Station substations.

Koroit is the fourth location in Victoria’s south-west to be protected by a REFCL, with devices already installed in Camperdown and Colac and work progressing to install a device in Terang.

Work will commence later in 2020 on a fifth device for the south-west Victoria, at Hamilton.

When all south-west devices are completed, a network of 5573km of high voltage powerlines will be protected, including 28 feeder lines covering 50,000 customers.

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 installation involves crews upgrading the surrounding distribution network to ensure powerlines and other infrastructure is compatible with the device. These works will involve some planned power outages to complete work safely.

Customers will be notified directly in advance of any planned outages. “We appreciate any power outages are inconvenient so we take steps to minimise the impact on the community as much as possible,” said Powercor’s REFCL Technical Director, Andrew Bailey.

“We thank customers for their understanding as we work to further improve the safety of our network.”

The REFCL program is providing additional bushfire protection for south-west communities, with the devices operating on powerlines within the Otway Ranges and other high-risk areas.

“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.

Over the 2019-20 summer, Powercor had REFCL devices installed in ten locations, and these operated in heightened sensitivity settings on Total Fire Ban days, activating more than 100 times.

The electricity distributor has a dedicated team of engineers, planners and crews working to ensure the devices are installed safely and are operating in line with performance requirements.

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

The Koroit REFCL will be operational prior to the 2021/22 fire season.

Technically complex rollout in Bendigo

The final stage of work to install a new REFCL in Bendigo is scheduled for 16-18 June.

As part of work to commission the device at the Bendigo Zone Substation, Powercor crews will be conducting stress testing on the local network.

Mr Bailey said this REFCL rollout was one of the most technically complex changes the electricity industry had seen in more than 30 years.

“The testing validates the replacement work that we have already conducted and identifies whether other upgrades or changes need to be made to the local network to support the safety device,” he said.

There are no outages planned during this work, however testing can occasionally cause unplanned outages.

“In the unlikely event of an outage, we have crews ready to respond as safely and as quickly as possible to get power back on to homes and businesses,” Mr Bailey said.

Further testing to ensure the device is responding effectively to faults will occur over the coming weeks.

Commissioning of the device at the Bendigo Terminal Station will occur later this year. REFCLs have already been installed at the Eaglehawk, Castlemaine and Maryborough zone substations.

Bendigo’s two new REFCLs will both be in operation by April 2021.

More information about the new REFCLs is available here.

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