By Neve Surridge, Corporate & Customer Graduate – Reputation and Media | Corporate Affairs, Powercor Australia

For any major project, getting community engagement right is essential to a smooth delivery. Here we take a look at two major power upgrades in regional Victoria this year, and how they have shown how proactive engagement with households and businesses can help teams deliver infrastructure projects.

It’s a Sunday morning in Ballarat’s busy hospital precinct. Normally, cars are angled along the leafy streets that surround the hospital, locals, and visitors to the city pop in and out of cafes, while others visit dozens of surrounding medical centres and allied health practices retrofitted into goldfields-era cottages throughout the area.

But not this Sunday. The cars were gone, replaced with elevated work platforms, task trucks and pole-crane vehicles. The foot traffic was replaced by Powercor crews working on overhead and underground powerlines and infrastructure. The cafes were closed. The medical centres shut. Roads were closed and hundreds of homes and businesses had their power switched off for the day.

This day was just one of many where significant disruptions occurred within central Ballarat to facilitate a large-scale upgrade to the Ballarat Base Hospital. But there was no community pushback. And that’s because residents were informed, prepared and bought-in to the work, understanding the need for the upgrade and its importance for their town.

This was a door-by-door personal approach, a genuine and authentic approach, that worked. The result was uninterrupted work days, with crews on many occasions finishing earlier than expected, and customers that felt listened-to.

A major shot in the arm for the hospital and community

The works in Ballarat earlier in 2023 were the first stage of the power upgrade required as part of Victorian Government’s $595 million redevelopment and expansion of the Ballarat Base Hospital. The significant power upgrade required the largest singleworks program on the Ballarat power network in decades.

The works tripled the hospital’s power supply from 2.9MVA to 9.3MVA of capacity, enough to support the new central energy plant, a renovated emergency department, a women and paediatrics hub, a state-of-the-art theatre suite and an extra 100 inpatient and short stay beds.

With such a large project, engagement was critical. More than 100 residents and businesses were regularly informed of upcoming works, as well as directly consulted when any changes came up in the planned construction schedule. Several residents and local business owners provided positive feedback to the project team of their ability to minimise disruption for such large-scale works. And Ballarat wasn’t alone.

In Shepparton not too long afterward, Powercor crews were again busy working to engage local businesses and residents as works took place to upgrade the Goulburn Valley Base Hospital, as part of the same state government program.

That upgrade more than doubled the hospitals power capacity from 2.4MVA to 6.5MVA, enough to power the hospital redevelopment, which includes a five-storey inpatient unit including 64 inpatient beds, ten intensive care beds, four new operating theatres, 12-bed maternity unit, ten-cot special care nursery and a 12-bed paediatric ward.

The project also implemented a critical back-up supply line to allow the hospital to run at full capacity even if a major outage occurs on one part of the network.

Network resilience, electrification, and indirect benefit

Powercor Head of Major Projects and Maintenance, Marcus Olive, said the work is a testament to the business’s commitment to supporting network resilience and electrification of regional communities in Victoria.

“Large infrastructure projects such as these hospital upgrades will improve reliability for thousands of customers in these areas,” Mr Olive said. “Ensuring critical services are resilient and prepared to withstand a power outage is incredibly important in supporting regional areas.

“Another by-product of these upgrades is that by building new capacity, we’re creating more room on the network for new connections, such as more distributed energy resources like rooftop solar panels and residential and commercial batteries, or electric vehicle charging technology.”

Delivering on time, with community engagement key

Earlier this year Powercor completed an even larger project, on time and ahead of state government timelines, once again supported by strong customer engagement and communications.

The Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) project, a six-year upgrade of the power system across 22 zone substations and more than 17,000 kilometers of powerlines in some of the highest bushfire risk areas in western, northern and central Victoria, involved more than 3.3 million work hours, and many hundreds of planned outages for customers who were informed and updated as work progressed.

But more than that, they understood the “why”. Helping customers understand the important “why” of this technology rollout was one of the reasons customers have been supportive of the works, despite some disruptions during construction and testing phases. Mr Olive said the world-first bushfire mitigation device was introduced in response to a recommendation from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

“This was one of the biggest projects ever in Powercor’s network and our communities are safer for it. “We thank the people and businesses that were affected as we installed and commissioned the devices. “Their patience and support was instrumental in helping us to deliver this project safely for the benefit of their communities.”

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