Australia — WA’s energy supplier, Western Power, has failed to address critical safety issues despite two safety audits, the state’s energy watchdog says.
Director of EnergySafety, Ken Bowron, today released an audit report into Western Power’s management of 620,000 wooden power poles.
Earlier this year, a pole top fire caused a bushfire that threatened a five-star resort and houses in the state’s southwest, while a major fire north of Perth in February was found to have been caused by clashing high voltage lines.
In 2007, Western Power’s conductors were blamed for sparking a bushfire in Toodyay, northeast of Perth, which claimed the life of a young school teacher as she attempted to flee the blaze.
The audit was the second in three years, after a 2006 audit reported an unacceptably high number of power pole failures in the supplier’s electricity distribution network.
Mr Bowron said the latest audit revealed gaps in Western Power’s design, procurement and pole replacement management.
It also showed Western Power’s data was not sufficiently accurate to support proper management of the wooden pole network.
“In particular, I was not satisfied with Western Power’s progress in addressing three critical safety issues we identified in our 2006 audit,” Mr Bowron said.
“There were serious deficiencies in pole inspection practices and the ability to compare pole strength with actual loads.”
Power poles, particularly in rural areas “were far too old” and did not have the necessary strength,” Mr Bowron said.
“Old, high-risk, unsupported jarrah poles in rural areas need to be identified and replaced urgently,” he said.
Western Power should be replacing about 15,000 poles a year but the figure had been as low as 2,000 to 3,000 a year.
But Western Power said it disagreed with the watchdog’s figure on the number of poles replaced annually.
“Western Power replaced 5,094 poles in 2006-2007, 6,070 poles in 2007-2008 and this year it will replace in the order of 9,000 wood poles, in stark contrast to the 2,000 to 3,000 quoted by EnergySafety,” the energy supplier said in a statement.
Western Power said the number of unserviceable poles replaced had been increased by 100 per cent and pole top fires had been reduced by 60 per cent in the last 18 months.
“Western Power has significantly improved all of the major indicators for the health of its wood pole population,” the energy supplier said in a statement.
It said substantial improvements had been made since the audit report was compiled and were not acknowledged by EnergySafety.
But Mr Bowron said the number of failures remained too high and compared poorly with national best practice.
He said EnergySafety would take immediate enforcement action to get Western Power to address three critical safety issues, with regular reviews of the progress made on each issue.