A spate of electricity infrastructure fires have again shone a spotlight on the safety of Powercor assets.
Statistics provided by the Warrnambool Fire Brigade showed there have been six fires in Country Fire Authority region five caused by electrical infrastructure since the end of March.
Region five covers all or part of the Warrnambool, Moyne, Corangamite and Southern Grampians council areas.
The fires have been reported as Powercor comes under increasing pressure to update its infrastructure maintenance program.
Powercor, which provides electricity to the western part of Victoria, has 550,000 power poles and in 2017 replaced just over 1000.
Most of the poles in the Powercor system are more than 50 years old and the pole supplier says the poles only last for 50 to 60 years.
Powercor has committed to replacing 2200 poles this year, although it is unclear if that figures includes double-staked poles which are no longer considered best practice.
A Powercor worker previously told Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan that the company knew it should be replacing about 14,000 poles a year.
Victorian energy minister Lily D'Ambrosio this week contentiously claimed in a budget estimates hearing that the new rapid earth fault current limiters safety system would have prevented five fires on Black Saturday.
She said the REFCL system, which is costing more than $600 million to install and will be paid for by customers, would be completed before the 2023-24 bushfire season.
Mr Riordan claimed in the hearing REFCL only worked if power lines hit the ground, prompting electricity supply to be cut.
Debate rages over whether REFCL would have stopped any of the St Patrick's Day fires in March last year: Gazette (sparked by vegetation), The Sisters/Garvoc (snapped power pole), Terang/Cobden (clashing conductors) and Gnotuk (vegetation)
There is also much debate among experts about where REFCL would have stopped any of the major Black Saturday fires and whether the system is cost effective.
The original cost of REFCL was to be $150 million.
Pole defect rates are also increasing, according to Powercor's own figures.
Electrical infrastructure bushfires make up only about five per cent of all bushfires but because they generally happen on days of extreme fire danger, those fires result in 80 per cent of deaths.
A Powercor spokeswoman said the company reported on pole performance to energy regulator Energy Safe Victoria quarterly which publishes the data annually.
ESV is seen by many as a toothless tiger and has regularly been questioned about where it has the expertise or power to regulate electricity distributors, such as Powercor.
"The recently reported fires relate to a variety of matters, including falling trees, and have been reported to the regulator and investigated," the spokeswoman said.
"We have a robust inspection and maintenance program as well as extensive safety systems and devices incorporated into our network to minimise these risks.
"The ESV report into our additional inspection of poles in the south-west region indicated that with the changes already made to our pole inspection policies Powercor's power pole inspection and maintenance process is fit for purpose and there is no immediate systemic risk of pole failures in the south-west.
"Our teams in the region and based in Colac and Warrnambool work around the clock to maintain a safe and reliable network for the community."
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