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Powercor has announced a new safety program that will see 7,000 power poles replaced or reinforced per year, beginning from 1 January, 2022.

The program involves a 65 per cent increase in the number of poles replaced or reinforced annually and will coordinate with other regional asset maintenance activities over the next five years. 

Powercor’s Head of Major Projects and Maintenance, Marcus Olive, said this expanded program is part of an updated Bushfire Mitigation Plan currently before Energy Safe Victoria for approval.

“This program is an essential part of building a stronger and safer network,” Mr Olive said.

“With climate change, we are likely to experience higher winds, fiercer storms and a greater risk of bushfires.  This program will help our network to be more resilient and able to fight the impacts of these extreme weather events on customers.”

The Bushfire Mitigation Plan sets out a commitment to replace or reinforce at least 34,650 poles over the next five years (6,930 poles per year). The 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, a revised proposal of 28,825 was submitted. Ultimately, the AER decided in April 2021 to fund Powercor for a lesser volume of 22,361 poles. 

Mr Olive said the extensive program of works will be planned on a region-by-region basis and coordinated with other maintenance activities such as the replacement of pole-top assets like cross-arms, insulators and powerlines.

“By bundling multiple jobs into works packages, we can minimise the impact on customers to get greater network safety and reliability outcomes,” Mr Olive said.

“We will be notifying customers in advance of any works and letting them know if and when power outages are required to allow time for them to be prepared.” 

The planning for the program is informed by a leading-edge asset management approach and which tailors our inspection and maintenance activities for each of more than 356,000 wooden power poles.  

This takes into consideration factors including the type of wood, their age, and prevailing weather conditions at their location. 

“By taking a precautionary approach to managing poles we will support safety and reliability objectives and over time, reduce the average age of our assets,” Mr Olive said.  

The last major change to Powercor’s pole inspection and management program was in 2019 when the strategy was updated with new, more conservative measures of pole serviceability, increased inspection frequency and clarifications to the use of signage on poles.

These changes were in addition to the regulatory standards that are in place across Victoria and which were extensively reviewed as part of the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission (VBRC) and the subsequent Grimes Review.

As the business that owns and operates the poles and wires across western Victoria, Powercor seeks approval from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) every five years on its expenditure plans.

In October 2021, Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) requested Powercor to replace and reinforce a minimum of 34,650 poles over five years. The updated Bushfire Management Plan capturing this increase is currently subject to ESV approval. 

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