The state's Energy Minister has failed to provide details as promised about how the new "save all" electricity safety system would have prevented five bushfires on Black Saturday.
Under intense questioning by Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan during a public accounts and estimates committee hearing last month, Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio claimed that five Black Saturday bushfires would have been prevented by the new Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters.
Ms D'Ambrosio provided a response to Mr Riordan late last week which was made public on Tuesday.
Mr Riordan said the minister's response was a "massive fudge".
"The minister has unfortunately failed to provide details as promised, unsurprisingly because REFCL would not have done as she claimed," he said.
"Ms D'Ambrosio was asked about the five fires she says REFCL would have prevented on Black Saturday. She has failed to state which fires they were or any details.
"Instead, she mentions the Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce's (PBST) estimate of REFCL reducing fire start risk by 70 per cent. In fact, the taskforce in its final report in September 2011, made it very clear, this estimate was based on a lack of data."
Mr Riordan said the data did not provide a breakdown of the number of fire starts by wire-to-wire faults and wire-to-earth faults.
"The taskforce has estimated that 70 per cent of fires are started by wire-to earth faults and 30 per cent of fires are started by wire-to-wire faults," he said.
"The data also does not provide a breakdown of fires started by electric arcs, molten metal particles and electric current flow. The taskforce has not been able to estimate this breakdown.
"So, the taskforce's analysis of the effectiveness of REFCL is very much an estimate, based on incomplete data.
"What appears to be missing is a focus on the cause and prevention of major bushfires on total fire ban days.
"That's what is needed to save lives - and that's what the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission recommended."
Mr Riordan said the historical evidence was that REFCL would not have prevented the major bushfires that killed people on Ash Wednesday or Black Saturday.
"The minister goes on to mention the Kilmore East fire on Black Saturday, which is a total furphy, because that fire involved a fault on a SWER line, which REFCL is not capable of preventing," he said.
"So, the question remains. Will the minister name which of the 'at least five fires on Black Saturday' she believes REFCLs would have prevented," he asked.
In her reply to Mr Riordan, Ms D'Ambrosio said that based on the evidence she had available, it was likely that had technology such as REFCL been installed, it would have been instrumental in stopping at least five of the major fires that were ignited by powerlines on Black Saturday.
She said the PBST identified that the likelihood of power lines starting bushfires is "substantially reduced if the sensitivity and speed of protection equipment is improved so that more faults are detected, and are detected more quickly".
"The early detection and response to many powerline faults within a split second can be the difference between a catastrophic bushfire ignition and an ignition being avoided altogether," she said.
"These technologies such as REFCLs, new generation Single Wire Earth Return automatic reclosers and the development of early fault detection devices are already reducing the risk of faults, such as those experienced on Black Saturday.
"The PBST estimate that the risk of a multi-wire powerline starting a bushfire with a REFCL installed is around 70 per cent lower than if these devices are not installed - given the frequency of and risk of wire-to-earth faults compared to wire-to-wire faults."
Ms D'Ambrosio said that in the most recent fire season and on a total fire ban day, REFCLs in two zone substations identified faults that had the potential to result in an ignition.
"Had these REFCLs not been installed and operating the consequences of those faults could have been devastating," she said.
"In addition, on May 28 last year an Early Fault Detection system identified a hard-to-find fault, exactly the same type of fault that caused the Kilmore East fire on Black Saturday.
"These different devices, deployed in areas of the highest bushfire risk consequence are delivering promising results that could reduce the risk of catastrophic bushfires in the future," she said.
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.