A termite infestation weakened the power pole that caused one of the devastating St Patrick’s Day fires, Energy Safe Victoria has revealed.
In a damning report released on Tuesday, ESV said Powercor’s inspection regime failed to identify that the pole that snapped and sparked the Garvoc fire was “compromised”.
“The pole had a sizeable internal cavity caused by decay and termite infestation which reduced its capacity to withstand the wind conditions,” the report said.
“A competent inspection and sound test of the pole in November 2017 would have identified the material degradation present when the pole failed.
“Powercor Australia Limited failed to identify… (the pole) had a sizeable internal cavity which compromised the pole even though specific tests (sound test) exist to identify internal cavities.”
ESV said investigations were continuing, which could lead to large-scale changes to industry practices. It will also determine whether regulatory breaches had occurred.
“As a result of the Garvoc Fire (The Sisters) investigation, ESV will now initiate a more formal investigation of Powercor Australia Limited’s current asset inspection practices as well as confirming the current condition of other poles in the Terang area by auditing poles on the same feeder or in the same area,” the report said.
Investigations will also continue into the Terang fire, which involved clashing powerlines.
ESV also released reports into other St Patrick’s Day fires sparked by electrical assets – the Gazette fire, the Minjah fire, the Gnotuk fire and the Warrnambool-Cobden fire at Laang. All were caused by trees or branches hitting powerlines in high wind.
“ESV has concluded that in all four fires, the trees that hit the powerlines were outside the minimum clearance space required by electric line clearance regulations,” the report said.
“ESV will not be investigating these incidents further.”
A Powercor spokeswoman said the organisation was reviewing the report into the Garvoc fire.
“Given there are legal proceedings under way, we are unable to make further comment,” she said.
Separate from the St Patrick’s Day fires, ESV is prosecuting Powercor for numerous powerline clearance breaches earlier this year that led to grass fires, including one at Port Campbell on January 28.
Powercor has been charged with:
- Breaching key provisions of the Code of Practice for Electric Line Clearance. If proven it could lead to fines of up to $39,642 per charge.
- Failing to minimise the risks to property from a supply network (section 98(b) of the Electricity Safety Act 1998). If proven this could attract a fine of up to $237,855 per charge.
- Failing to comply with a bushfire mitigation plan (section 113B(2) of the Electricity Safety Act 1998). If proven this could attract a fine of up to $237,855 per charge.
All three grass fires were caused by tree branches coming into contact with powerlines.