Victorian REFCL program status
Network status at 1 May 2021
MEC delivery of REFCLs
- AusNet Services has a time extension for four tranche 2 sites (Belgrave, Eltham, Lilydale and Wodonga & Tallangatta Terminal Station – 11 points).
- Powercor has completed delivery of tranche 1 and 2 of the program and is now focused on delivering the final tranche 3 sites.
- Jemena only has two sites to deliver (Coolaroo and Kalkallo) which must be completed by 1 May 2023.
- Kalkallo substation is owned by AusNet Services but supplies three feeders owned by Jemena.
REFCL program exemptions and time extensions
ESV has granted MECs the following exemptions and time extensions.
|7/11/2018||AusNet Services & Powercor||ESV granted eight exemptions to AusNet Services and 15 exemptions to Powercor related to the isolation of incompatible high voltage customer installations from REFCL protection. This was required because a small section of powerline between the isolating transformer and the customer’s point of supply would not be REFCL-protected.||The exemption related to very short sections of underground or insulated lines. ESV determined the associated risk to be close to zero.|
|12/7/2019||AusNet Services||ESV granted a time extension up to 1 November 2019 to allow AusNet Services to resolve unique technical challenges at Woori Yallock and Kinglake. Following further investigation AusNet Services submitted a detailed plan to achieve compliance on 26/07/2019 that showed additional time would be required to implement the necessary network changes.||Over this period Kinglake and Woori Yallock REFCLs were available for service on high risk days, so the risk was appropriately managed. However this temporary relief ultimately allowed AusNet Services to achieve full compliance at these sites and achieve the full bushfire mitigation benefit for the local communities.|
ESV extended the previous time extension for the delivery of Kinglake and Woori Yallock to 29 April 2021 and 1 November 2020 respectively.
AusNet Services has complied with the time extension and compliance has been achieved at Woori Yallock and Kinglake.
|5/6/2020||Powercor||ESV granted an exemption for the powerlines supplied from Corio and Geelong zone substation that are located within the city of Geelong from being REFCL protected. The remaining powerlines with bushfire ignition risk will be supplied from a new REFCL-protected zone substation at Gheringhap by 1 May 2023. Any new powerlines supplied from Corio or Geelong and in a hazardous bushfire risk area must be covered or underground.||The exempt powerlines are located in an urban area within the city of Geelong and thus do not pose a bushfire ignition risk. The remaining powerlines with risk will be REFCL protected as intended by the legislation. ESV found that this exemption delivered an equivalent safety outcome to strict compliance.|
|2/12/2020||Jemena||ESV granted an exemption for the powerlines supplied from Coolaroo zone substation that are located within the city of Melbourne from being REFCL protected. The remaining powerlines with bushfire ignition risk will be REFCL-proteced by 1 May 2023. Any new powerlines supplied from Coolaroo and in a hazardous bushfire risk area must be covered or underground.||The exempt powerlines are located in an urban area within the city of Melbourne and thus do not pose a bushfire ignition risk. The remaining powerlines with risk will be REFCL protected as intended by the legislation. ESV found that this exemption delivered an equivalent safety outcome to strict compliance.|
|12/10/2020||AusNet Services, Jemena and Powercor||ESV granted general exemptions from the requirement to REFCL-protect underground cable. As the proportion of underground cable increases on a network it becomes challenging to achieve the ‘required capacity’ performance standard associated with REFCL technology. Since REFCL protection is unlikely to provide any bushfire mitigation benefit for underground cable the most cost effective solution in many cases is to isolate these network sections.||This blanket exemption delivers significant savings to Victorian electricity customers without affecting bushfire safety.|
|27/4/2021||AusNet Services||ESV granted a time extension in relation to REFCL delivery at Belgrave, Lilydale and Eltham that supply railway sites. The railway sites will not be REFCL-compatible in accordance with the regulatory deadline and is beyond AusNet Services’ control. The time extension also relates to Wodonga, where a new technical issue has been encountered that is making compliance difficult to achieve. The time extension delays delivery of these sites from 1 May 2021 to 1 November 2022 and covers one bushfire season.||AusNet Services has implemented several transfers to allow the vast majority of the Belgrave and Lilydale networks to be REFCL-protected in accordance with the regulatory deadline, so any change in risk is likely to be small.
AusNet Services is exploring options to mitigate the risk at Wodonga to provide some protection before the next fire season.
AusNet Services is exploring options to accelerate delivery of other tranche 3 sites.
About the program
The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC) found that some of the most devastating fires on Black Saturday were ignited by faulted powerlines.
The Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce
In response to the recommendations of the VBRC the Victorian Government established the Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce (PBST). The PBST identified Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) technology as a potentially cost-effective way of reducing the risk of 22 kilo-volt powerlines from starting bushfires (representing approx. 80-90% of risk), along with other initiatives to address the risk from powerlines more generally.
The PBST commissioned research and testing of the technology in collaboration with ESV, suppliers and electricity companies to prove this capability.
Following successful trials, the Electricity Safety (Bushfire Mitigation) Regulations 2013 were amended in 2016 to require electricity companies to achieve the ‘required capacity’ performance standard across 45 prescribed substations supplying the highest bushfire consequence areas of Victoria. REFCL is currently the only technology that can achieve this performance standard.
Delivery of the REFCL program is prescribed over three tranches, due for completion by 1 May 2019, 2021 and 2023 respectively. In addition United Energy has chosen to voluntarily install REFCLs on three of its networks.
A world first use of REFCL technology
Victoria’s use of REFCLs for bushfire prevention in rural areas with long lines, difficult terrain, and high vegetation cover is a world-first.
As with the implementation of any new technology, challenges were encountered. ESV granted specific time extensions and exemptions to enable resolution of key technical and delivery issues that were beyond the control of the electricity companies who are required to deliver this ambitious program. Despite these extensions, the overall program rollout is on track and delivering the intended benefits to Victorians.
Bushfire ignition reduction
The PBST trials indicated that REFCLs could reduce powerline bushfire ignition risk between 48 and 60 per cent.
Following completion of tranche 1, ESV commissioned two independent reports (Cost Benefit Analysis and Functional Performance Review) into the REFCL program in 2020. The functional performance report found that the REFCLs installed are meeting this expectation. This success has been recognised internationally with trials currently underway in California, USA to address the significant wildfire risk in that region.
How REFCLs work
A REFCL is installed in a substation where the high voltage powerlines it protects originate. It detects when there is a fault on one of the three wires that make up a high voltage powerline and compensates for this by rapidly limiting the energy released into the fault to such a magnitude that a fire is unable to be ignited. If the fault persists it will then instruct a circuit breaker to switch power off to the powerline.