Eric Ripper

Eric Ripper

Deputy Premier; Treasurer; Minister for State Development

    Rural network upgrade under way

    10/01/2005 12:21 PM

    Helicopter patrols were under way from Albany to Kalbarri inspecting the condition of Western Power’s high voltage lines as part of the biggest electricity infrastructure overhaul in decades, Energy Minister Eric Ripper said today.

    Mr Ripper said the patrols were identifying design problems, equipment condition and vegetation risks that could lead to local power failures.

    The Minister said the Government and Western Power were investing $1.8billion over four years to improve the quality, safety and reliability of power supplies.

    “While it will take some time before the network is up to a standard acceptable to country people and to the Government, the upgrade plan is well under way,” he said.

    “More money has been spent on the electricity network in each of the last two years than at any time over the last decade.”

    Releasing new figures showing 708 wooden power poles in rural areas were replaced in 2004, Mr Ripper said he wanted to see a marked improvement as a result of the Government’s upgrade plan.

    Western Power had already installed 70 new sectionalisers, six load-break switches and 24 single and three-phase reclosers to limit the duration and number of people affected by local faults, such as vegetation falling on lines. More than 100 sectionalisers and 180 reclosers were on track to be installed in rural areas.

    “The Government has been concerned about power reliability for some time,” the Minister said.

    “That is why in 2002 we gave the energy safety watchdog the teeth to independently investigate consumer complaints about Western Power’s performance.”

    Mr Ripper said the Director of Energy Safety had brought a new focus to country power reliability, exposing problems that had been hidden for years.

    In a 2003 report, the Director (Albert Koenig) said
        ‘…the problems that are evident (in the network) have not developed recently but over quite some time, becoming more pronounced during the last 10 years…’

    “Clearly, these problems have not arisen overnight,” Mr Ripper said.

    “They have been ignored by successive Governments because, in many cases, there is insufficient commercial return for Western Power to make the investment.

    “Frankly, that is not good enough and this Government is doing something about it.”

    The National Party should be embarrassed by its failure to defend regional WA during the eight years when Colin Barnett was Energy Minister.

    “Mr Barnett privatised $3.6billion in energy assets but did not reinvest one dollar in upgrading the country network,” the Minister said.

    “The Nationals just sat back and watched. That is when the rot set in.”

    The Gallop Government had:
    • every year, replaced an average 965 wooden power poles in the rural parts of the South-West power grid, compared with just 410 in the last year of the Coalition Government;
    • more than doubled maintenance spending on the rural part of the electricity network, compared with the Coalition’s last years in office;
    • invested $3million on the Minnivale feeder in the northern Wheatbelt to improve reliability;
    • built the $60million Pinjar to Eneabba transmission line to improve capacity and reliability;
    • established the $48million Rural Power Improvement program to target ‘black spots’;
    • started a program to silicone coat 40,000 power poles to fight pole top fires;
    • hired a record number of workers to restore Western Australian power supplies in the event of faults; and
    • installed more than 650 intermediate power poles and spreaders to minimise the risk of lines coming into contact.
    “We also reversed Colin Barnett’s decision to withdraw the uniform electricity tariff from many country businesses - another battle lost by the Nationals in Coalition with the Liberals,” Mr Ripper said.

    “In a rare confession, the Nationals Leader Max Trenorden said in 2001:
        ‘It was Mr Barnett who opposed spending money on upgrading electricity infrastructure in country WA…as Minister he refused to tell Western Power to upgrade its systems and that refusal is still being felt throughout country WA.’

    “Mr Trenorden should now give credit where it is due - to the Gallop Government - and explain how he would have any sway over Colin Barnett if the Coalition was elected to office this year.”

    Rural power poles replaced: 2000-2004

    2000 Colin Barnett 410
    2001 Gallop Government1,028
    2002 Gallop Government1,299
    2003 Gallop Government 827
    2004 Gallop Government 708

    Minister's office: 9222 8788