World-leading technology designed to improve the safety of powerlines in high bushfire risk areas has begun to be installed in Bendigo, Victoria, as part of a safety program by electricity distribution company, Powercor.

The Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) device operates similar to a large safety switch on the network and is designed to minimise the chance of a spark occurring if a powerline comes into contact with the ground or a tree limb, thereby reducing the risk of fires starting from powerline faults.

A device will be installed at the Bendigo Zone Substation and another at the Bendigo Terminal Station.

As part of the complex installation, Powercor conducted works in Strathfieldsaye on 28 July with crews to continue working on overhead power lines and infrastructure in Bendigo’s south eastern area during the following three months.

Additional works will continue throughout the year and into 2020 to complete installation and commissioning.

REFCL devices are being installed in some of the state’s highest bushfire risk areas as directed by the Victorian Government’s program in response to recommendations from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

Combined, the Bendigo Zone Substation and Terminal Station support 40,569 customers within the region, supplied by 15 feeders and 1,248km of powerlines.

Powercor REFCL Technical Director, Andrew Bailey, said the works were an important improvement for public safety.

“We are focused on delivering safe power to homes and businesses and these devices will significantly improve the safety of the infrastructure and reduce the risk of fires starting from electricity assets,” Mr Bailey said.

“Powercor crews will be upgrading infrastructure throughout 2019 in Bendigo and surrounding areas to accommodate this new technology.

“We will always be mindful of the community when scheduling planned outages to safely upgrade the network. We thank customers for their understanding as we work to further improve the safety of our network.”

The technology provides an additional safety measure on the electricity network and is part of Powercor’s bushfire mitigation program. While these devices are used to improve reliability in other parts of the world, this is the first time REFCL devices are being installed to reduce bushfire risk.

While the safety devices are effective all year round, on days of Total Fire Ban they will operate at heightened fault sensitivity, in line with regulatory requirements. When they do operate, crews will patrol the line to determine the cause of the fault and ensure it is safe for the community before switching power back on.

Powercor has a dedicated team of engineers, planners and crews working to ensure the devices are being installed safely and are operating in line with requirements set by the regulators. The REFCL devices are being rolled out in three phases, with the first phase completed in April 2019. The Bendigo REFCL installations are part of phase two due for completion in April 2021.

REFCL devices are already operating from the Maryborough and Eaglehawk Zone Substations, covering areas including Avoca, Bendigo, Bridgewater and Dunolly.