The arrival of warmer temperatures and the associated bush fire season historically signals a heightened level of alert for Ergon Energy.

Although data for fire related impacts on its network from last year is quite favourable, the regional power distributor makes it very clear that there is no time for complacency.

“Authorities are still predicting another significant season and we need to be vigilant and prepared,” said General Manager Customer Delivery, Steve Leighton.

According to Mr Leighton, the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 financial years saw a significant impact on the community, fire authorities, and Ergon alike. In stark contrast, the 2013-14 year saw a considerable reduction in fire related impacts on Ergon’s network, with the number of fire related incidents reverting back to pre-2011 levels with just 35 incidents for the year – well below the historical average for the previous two financial years of 50.4.

“The vast majority of last year’s incidents were from grass and bush fire activity, with just two attributed to land owner burn offs – a very pleasing outcome.  It would appear from the figures that the property owners are heeding the messages we put out annually about controlled burns. This responsible approach not only has a positive impact on supply to the property owners but also that of the broader community,” he said.

The statistics are measured across a number of categories including bushfire, grass fire, landowner burn off, lightning, and pole related.

Mr Leighton said the most pleasing aspect of last year’s figures was the reduced impact on customers and the community.

“The number of customers who lost supply was well below half that of the previous year at 4,611 customer minutes lost reduced by over 70%, average outage times to customers decreased from 5.9 hrs to 3.5 hrs, the number of poles destroyed by fire reduced significantly from 251 to 45, and the number poles lost in a single incident reduced from 51 to 6.”

Ergon Energy has over one million power poles across regional Queensland.

“While last year’s figures are very welcome, we also need to be mindful that favourable conditions in at least in some parts of the state have produced an abundance of on ground fuel and a heightened level of alert for Ergon Energy, fire authorities, and property owners alike.”

“Over the past few years, the impact of bush fires on our organisation has been significant and apart from the obvious increased safety issues and costs involved, there is also the added inconvenience placed on the community through unnecessary disruption to power supply.”

“Another important factor to consider is that pole fires pose a potential serious safety risk to the community. Obviously when a pole is burnt down the power lines are brought down as well and this is something we are very concerned about from a public safety perspective.”

Ergon Energy relies on the support and assistance from the community which often helps to reduce the impact on the wider community.

“The message we want to reinforce with landholders is that if they intend burning off, please be aware of any power structures that may be on or near their properties” Mr Leighton said.

Ergon Energy manages the fire risk to its assets through its vegetation management and bushfire mitigation strategies. Mitigation measures in place to combat the ravages of bush fire include:

  • Collaborative working arrangement with fire authorities
  • Network preventative maintenance program ensuring all Ergon Energy assets are inspected to a defined program
  • Specialised aerial surveillance of its network
  • Use of fire retardant materials on poles and use of alternative pole material in high risk bush fire areas

“With ongoing assistance from the community, Ergon Energy can respond quickly and ultimately improve reliability of supply to customers. Ultimately, if we invest and maintain our vast network in a prudent, efficient and safe manner, we can provide better service delivery to our customers and keep downward pressure on rising electricity prices.”

“On that count we want to acknowledge the tremendous support we receive from Rural Fire authorities giving priority to preserving community infrastructure during bush firefighting activities and also at time of burn-off permit issue.”

Utility Journalist

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