Powercor has received a reduction of $21 million from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) on the amount its customers will pay for the installation of crucial bushfire safety technology under Tranche 3.

Victorian distribution network businesses must install Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCL) following recommendations from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

These businesses applied to the AER for contingent project funding as part of their 2016-20 revenue determinations to fulfill their REFCL obligations.

AER Board Member, Jim Cox, said that ensuring customers pay no more than necessary for safe and reliable energy is the cornerstone of AER’s decisions on projects such as REFCL approval.

“We have carefully examined Powercor’s proposed spending but cannot approve their plans in full. Powercor customers have to foot the bill for this equipment, and it is only right they get the best possible value for money,” Mr Cox said.

“Our decision involves a reduction of $21 million to better reflect the level of spending required to meet obligations relating to the prevention of bushfires.

”We also propose deferring work at Corio substation which will allow Powercor to consider the available options for this part of the project.”

Powercor applied for $164.5 million in capital expenditure for Tranche 3 of the project but the AER has determined that only $116.2 million is needed to satisfy its legal obligations.

Powercor’s contingent project application involves REFCL installation works at zone substations in Corio, Koroit, Stawell, Hamilton, Ararat, Merbein and Terang.

REFCLs can detect single phase-to-earth faults almost instantaneously and then cancel voltage on the affected line within milliseconds. This limits the voltage of a line to below the point where it can ignite a fire.

Mr Cox said the AER had listened to and carefully considered community concern around the cost of REFCL, but recognised that options for businesses like Powercor to meet their obligations are limited.

“The Black Saturday bushfires killed 173 people and following that tragedy the Victorian government mandated standards that require the use of REFCL technology. We acknowledge this is expensive technology, but the AER will only approve efficient spending,” Mr Cox said.

“I understand there has been serious community concern about cost blowouts on the REFCL project, and this is reflected in the submissions we have received on this contingent project and others.”

The AER has made six decisions to date in tranches 1, 2 and 3 on Powercor and AusNet Services REFCL contingent projects resulting in cost reductions in the order of $105 million, or 14 per cent, which translates into savings on customer bills.

Under the contingent project process, businesses can apply to the AER to recover the efficient cost of projects that were uncertain at the time it made its distribution determination for 2016-20.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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