It appears unlikely Victoria's energy regulator will prosecute Powercor over a rotten wooden pole that snapped and sparked The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire on St Patrick's Day last year, industry sources say.
Embattled regulator Energy Safe Victoria was due to release a report early this year but that timeframe has been continually pushed back.
ESV's director of energy safety Paul Fearon told The Standard in March the report would be released this month, 15 months since the fires that devastated parts of the south-west. ESV had previously told The Standard the report would be released in March.
"Energy Safe Victoria will hold Powercor to account and prosecute if necessary if they have broken the law," Mr Fearon said in March. "We will also continue to test and challenge their systems to ensure they are fit for purpose and safe into the future."
When asked today about a decision on whether to prosecute, ESV spokesman Jonathan Granger said: "The legal investigation is still ongoing. These kind of things are complicated and take time. I can't give you a specific date."
If the report confirms no prosecution of Powercor, it will spark another barrage of criticism for the regulator which is regarded by many as toothless.
Powercor, which oversees a network of 550,000 poles covering mostly the western side of Victoria, is seen as self-regulating by politicians, energy unions and victims of the St Patrick's Day fires and other blazes across the state..
The system came under scrutiny when all four bushfires on St Patrick's Day last year were started by electrical assets.
Two of those - The Sisters/Garvoc and the Terang/Cobden fires - remain the subject of class actions which are set down for mediation on May 17.
The degrading nature of the system became apparent after a see-through power pole was found just metres from where The Sisters fire started.
Dairy farmer Jill Porter commissioned independent tests on poles in and around her farm which uncovered deficiencies in the Powercor maintenance regime which had been carried out in November 2017, just months before the bushfires.
Powercor hurried to replace eight poles in the wake of the revelations and further testing confirmed pole issues.
That led to an audit of almost 20,000 poles across the south-west and a fresh batch of assets emblazoned with white cross indicating had a limited life.
The system was largely put in place during the 1950s and 60s and pole providers say poles have a life of 50 to 60 years.
Many of the poles have now reached that use-by date but Powercor uses a range of measures to maximise the life of poles that cost about $10,000 each to replace.
Power was only installing just over 1000 poles a year but has now committed to 2200.
That figure includes poles on new lines and a priority to replace double staked poles - a previous standard practise to lengthen the life of poles.
There are more than 5200 double staked poles in the system, but the practice raises the leverage weak point of the poles from below ground to above the stakes.
There's no commonsense. It's all about multi-national Powercor making millions while putting my community at risk.The Sisters dairy farmer Jill Porter
Pole No. 4 on the Sparrow Spur line at The Sisters was doubled staked, but snapped in catastrophic fire conditions on St Patrick's Day and sparked that bushfire.
Mrs Porter said self regulation by Powercor was endangering communities because of the ageing and deteriorating nature of the system.
She said Powercor refused to release technical details about acceptable pole standards.
"We have been assured in a number of meetings with governments officials this year that there are no systemic issues," she said.
"But there is basically no program for the replacement of poles in the system - no one can explain to me how that can work.
"There's no commonsense. It's all about multi-national Powercor making millions while putting my community at risk," she said.
Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan in March raised the issue in state parliament stating that on basic maths it would take 259 years to replace the poles in the existing system.
He said he had been told by a Powercor official that the company knew it should be replacing 14,000 poles a year.
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