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Bushfire preparedness underway in the Mid West

Western Power crews are close to completing bushfire preparedness work in the Mid West region ahead of the summer months to help minimise fire risk and any resulting network impacts.

Executive Manager of Asset Management Gair Landsborough said significant progress had been made in the region including maintaining and replacing poles, wires and insulators where needed, and managing vegetation.

“In the region, we’ve spent almost $8M in 2019-20 and around $4.6M this financial year on pole replacements, $1.2M in 2019-20 and $200k this financial year on replacing conductors, and around $700K on vegetation management,” he said.

“Almost 15kms of conductors have been replaced in the Mid West region and we are installing poles that that are treated with fire retardant paint,” he said.

Western Power’s annual pole top fire mitigation strategy in the region has not this year included `live’ siliconing and pole washing following a safety incident in January that injured one of our employees.

“Due to the impact on customers that would occur from the multiple outages needed to undertake `de-energised’ siliconing and washing, we’ve increased our insulator replacements and network maintenance and renewal to improve power reliability where we can in the region,” he said.

“We’re replacing almost 1,200 silicone insulators this year which will help prevent pole top fires in the region.”

Mr Landsborough said Western Power continually improved on its bushfire preparedness program using network risk modelling and technology to identify bushfire risk zones for pole and conductor replacements, and increased frequency of pole inspections.

“We’re regularly reviewing our processes and considering what new solutions we can implement to mitigate bushfire risk from our infrastructure while providing a safe and reliable power supply for our customers.”

Western Power has a number of projects underway in the Mid West region which will be progressively implemented over the next few years to improve reliability performance including:

  • a backup scheme in Northampton for the two existing feeders in the area - if one experiences a fault, the second may take over supply to the majority of customers
  • planned installation of additional automated switching devices throughout the region to speed up power restoration efforts
  • installing fuse savers on some small radial lines, which will avoid a number of outages caused by transient conditions like passing birds or vegetation debris contacting the lines
  • replacing 33kV outdoor (air-insulated) switchgear with indoor GIS (gas-insulated) switchgear at the Geraldton substation. The 33kV feeders at the substation predominantly supply many of the rural areas in the Mid West region.

Mr Landsborough said Western Power worked under different practices during the summer season and it was important that people were aware of high fire danger ratings declared by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), and total fire bans and vehicle movement bans.

“In these circumstances, we need to wait for bushfire risk conditions to ease or the bans to be lifted before we are permitted to patrol powerlines or attempt to restore power. This can sometime mean people are without power for a longer period of time,” he said.

People can help reduce bushfire risk by:

  • Keeping trees away from powerlines their properties and learning the clearance zones for a safe minimum distance.
  • If you see a fallen or damaged powerline or an emergency situation affecting the electricity network, stay clear and make the safe call on 13 13 51.
  • If you see a spark or fire in vegetation, no matter how small, call 000 immediately.
  • If you experience an outage in bushfire season, please be patient. We’ll restore power as soon as it is safe to do so.

Crews working on overhead powerlines