Australia — TWO years since a $200 million plan to upgrade dangerous powerlines in bushfire-prone zones was announced, only 10 have been buried.
And none of the 100,000km of dangerous single-wire earth return or high-voltage lines has been upgraded.
Undergrounding power lines was a key recommendation of the Bushfire Royal Commission report, but the cost to bury the entire network was considered too prohibitive.
Instead, in 2011, the then Baillieu government committed to an underground light plan to upgrade lines – either with aerial cabling, insulation or undergrounding – in the most high-risk bushfire zones over 10 years.
Powercor and SP AusNet electricity customers were also slugged $500 million to upgrade their networks by 2022.
A commitment of $62.5 million was made in the 2012 Budget to fund the project until 2015, but only 10 lines on private land have been buried and another 200 landowners have been told they can apply to underground their lines.
The Government will also trial new technology that could stop sparking by limiting current when a line faults.
But with this seasons most damaging fire – the Mickleham/Kilmore blaze, which destroyed 18 homes – caused after a branch fell on a powerline, the Opposition has argued the replacement program needs to move quicker.
In its annual report, Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor chair Neil Comrie said very good progress was being made on the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program.
Bushfire behaviour expert Kevin Tolhurst has completed a league table for areas that are most at risk and has presented it to the power companies.
The power companies have also made recommendations to authorities on how best to upgrade the network based on Dr Tolhursts work.
Most of the areas are in the 100km band around Melbourne, Dr Tolhurst said.
Opposition energy and resource spokeswoman Lily DAmbrosio said the Government needed to explain which communities would miss out on upgrading.
Energy Minister Nicholas Kotsiras said plans had been drawn up for 12 projects, which will see 65km of high-voltage power lines upgraded.
Work on the $9 million upgrading of lines in the high- risk areas of the Dandenong Ranges and the Otway Ranges would start soon, Mr Kotsiras said.
All commitments made have been met and the program is running on schedule, he said.