MPs call for power asset safety

Power rage: Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources Ryan Smith (from left), Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell, Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan and Ecklin South farm hand Simon Craven have put the call out for the State Government to increase its commitment to power infrastructure replacement and repair after local farmers discovered a number of deteriorated or damaged power poles within the south west.

DISSATISFACTION with the state’s energy regulator and the State Government’s maintenance of the south west’s energy infrastructure ramped up last week.

A number of MPs and United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) Wannon branch representatives met with local farmers at properties in Ecklin South, Garvoc and Terang to air their concerns about the potential risks of power infrastructure in immediate need of repair.

Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan said the statistics surrounding Powercor and Energy Safe Victoria’s (ESV) handling of the south west energy network were “horrific”.

“Independent testing of some power lines are showing up to 40 per cent of poles on some lines are in need of immediate replacement,” he said.

“Currently Victoria has around 1.2 million poles.

“At current replacement rates, the (State) Government is allowing poles to have an average life expectancy of around 900 years.”

Hollow pole: Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources Ryan Smith inspects a pole in a paddock on the Craven property.

Powercor announced earlier this month it would soon begin an audit of between 17,000 and 19,000 poles across the south west, on top of a number of specific pole replacements in Garvoc and Ecklin South.

Mr Riordan said the State Government needed to push ESV to ensure all poles across the state, especially in regional areas, were safe.

“Hundreds of millions have been spent since the Royal Commission findings on Black Saturday, and still the majority of country Victoria is being left with substandard and dangerous power infrastructure,” he said.

“The ESV audit since the St Patrick Day fires has looked at only 0.0003 per cent of Powercor’s poles.

“I am calling on the Andrews Government to restore confidence to my communities in Polwarth by telling the community how much is being spent each year on power infrastructure replacement and repair.”

Mr Riordan said ESV’s response following the St Patrick’s Day fires and after concluding Powercor assets were responsible for most of the events was “underwhelming”.

Mr Riordan said more funding needed to be put towards ensuring the state’s energy infrastructure was secure, especially during periods of extreme heat or wind.

“Victorians pay millions of dollars on their power bills for poles and wires,” he said.

Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell said there had been “no accountability” shown from either the State Government or ESV.

“We’ve all expected the Government to keep us safe,” she said.

Pole check: State Members of Parliament, United Dairyfarmers of Victoria Wannon branch representatives and local farmers inspect a deteriorated pole.

Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources Ryan Smith said he had contacted Minister for Energy Lily D’Ambrosio about the issue, but had not yet received an answer.

“It’s easy to take this stuff (energy infrastructure) for granted when nothing’s happening,” he said.

“The regulator is not doing its job.”

Ecklin South farm hand Simon Craven said he had discovered a number of deteriorated or damaged poles throughout his family’s property over the past month or so.

“I found several poles I wasn’t happy with,” he said.

“We’re only a small part of the network, so what else is out there?

“I think they’ve just got to think of us.”

Powercor replaced a pole on the Craven property on Thursday, January 3 following Mr Craven’s requests and have since scheduled a number of further replacements of poles on the property.

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria Wannon branch representatives were also on hand to view the damaged pole.

“We want safe, reliable, modern infrastructure,” UDV policy councillor Oonagh Kilpatrick said.

Ms Kilpatrick said with the $1.364 billion the dairy industry had reinjected back into the community over the 2016/17 financial year, the region’s farmers deserved a better power network.

“We are being asked to accept third-world infrastructure,” she said.

A Powercor spokesperson said the audit of the majority of the south west network had started.

“We have begun the additional inspections of between 17,000 and 19,000 poles in the south west region, over and above our regular inspection cycle,” the spokesperson
said.

“We have a robust pole inspection process in place, however given the concerns raised by the community we have chosen to conduct this additional inspection.

“Inspections are designed to identify what condition poles are in and, if needed, when a pole should be replaced.”

The spokesperson said each pole would be tested on its individual quality.

“It is important to understand that while outwardly a pole may appear old or weathered, our qualified inspectors assess the pole’s overall strength,” the spokesperson said.

To report a power pole in need of an inspection, contact Powercor on 13 24 12 or visit powercor.com.au.

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