Powercor officials have admitted they should be replacing 14,000 power poles a year based purely on the age of the infrastructure, a south-west politician said yesterday.
Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan's electorate covers the area where The Sister/Garvoc, Terang/Cobden and Gnotuk/Camperdown St Patrick's Day fires devastated the south-west in March last year.
He said he had been involved in a number of meetings with Powercor officials as part of the campaign to overhaul the company's infrastructure maintenance and replacement program.
Mr Riordan said that in a meeting three weeks ago it was openly discussed that Powercor should be replacing 14,000 of its 640,000 poles in western Victoria annually.
He said that currently there were less than 2000 poles being replaced - and that number includes new infrastructure and poles that had been burnt in fires.
The MP said that it had been suggested that in one year there were less than 1000 poles replaced in the 640,000 pole network.
He said that Powercor did not test poles based on age, despite the network being put in place after World War II and much of the infrastructure in therefore 70-plus years old.
"It's post-war infrastructure and on any assessment it's coming to the end of its natural life," Mr Riordan said.
"Currently age is not a pre-determinate factor in replacement, it's based purely on inspection."
The MP said that on any assessment, replacing less than 2000 poles a year would not keep the infrastructure ongoing long-term.
"Just based on the maths it's not going to work," he said.
"On the documents I've seen 2014 was the high point of replacement but even on Powercor forward estimates to 2025 we are not getting back to the 2014 level of replacements."
Mr Riordan said farmers were aware of replacing wooden infrastructure - they did it regularly through their fencing requirements.
Ms D'Ambrosio is good at coming down to the south-west to open wind farms but what we need is her down here to talk about planning for power pole maintenance and replacement.Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan
"South-west Victoria is one of the most rot-prone regions in the world due to our climate," he said.
"If you put wooden poles in the ground they don't last forever. Farmers in this region are very aware of that.
"Despite what Powercor says there needs to a transparent and realistic maintenance and replacement program introduced to upkeep the current infrastructure."
Mr Riordan said the state government and energy minister Lily D'Ambrosio were ultimately responsible.
"We urgently need an infrastructure management plan," he said.
"Ms D'Ambrosio is good at coming down to the south-west to open wind farms but what we need is her down here to talk about planning for power pole maintenance and replacement."
Mr Riordan raised the replacement of poles as an issue at last Friday's Terang community forum with federal energy minister Angus Taylor.
A Powercor spokeswoman said the 14,000 figure was incorrect.
"We will have more to say about our inspection and maintenance program in coming weeks," she said.
The Standard has been running a campaign to improve Powercor's infrastructure maintenance and replacement program, led by The Sisters dairyfarmers Jill Porter and Jack Kenna, with the backing of Member for Wannon Dan Tehan.
Four bushfires in the south-west on St Patrick's Day last year were started by power infrastructure.
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