25/02/2008 - 15:57

Western Power gets poor report card from regulator

25/02/2008 - 15:57

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Western Australia's biggest electricity supplier, Western Power, is under pressure to lift its service standards following the release of a critical report by the Economic Regulation Authority today.

Western Power gets poor report card from regulator

Western Australia's biggest electricity supplier, Western Power, is under pressure to lift its service standards following the release of a critical report by the Economic Regulation Authority today.

The electricity distributors' performance report, which focuses on customer connections, network reliability, street lighting, customer service and compensation payments, found Western Power failed to establish one in five new connections within the prescribed time scales for the second successive year.

There were 844,000 small use customer connections on the distribution networks, of which 799,892 were operated by Western Power, followed by Horizon Power (44,203), and the Rottnest Island Authority (98).

In the areas of the state other than CBD and urban areas, the average total length of interruptions reported by Horizon Power and Western Power exceeded the standard of 290 minutes by 56 per cent and 89 per cent respectively.

Only the RIA managed to meet the standard with an average of 236 minutes.

Meanwhile, the number of customers experiencing a continuous interruption exceeding 12 hours increased by 81 per cent compared to 2005/06 with Horizon Power reporting an increase of 183 per cent and Western Power 49 per cent.

A large proportion of the Horizon Power interruptions were due to severe storms and Cyclone George, while Western Power maintained that the increase on their network was predominantly due to the Dwellingup bushfires, lightning, pole top fires and equipment failure.

The report also found the number of customers who had experienced multiple interruptions that exceeded the prescribed standards increased by 148 per cent in CBD and urban areas and by 685 per cent in the rest of the state.

The average total length of interruptions to supply was 25 minutes compared with the standard of 30 minutes prescribed for the CBD.

In urban areas, the average total length of interruptions was 293 minutes, which exceeded the standard of 160 minutes by 83 per cent.

The average frequency of interruption to customer premises and the average length of interruption to customer premises remained little changed from the values reported in 2005/06 with the exception of RIA, which reported an increase of 130 per cent in the frequency of interruptions.

In 2006/07, 35 per cent of metropolitan and 22 per cent of regional streetlights were not repaired within the prescribed time scales, which is a significant increase from 2005/06.

Not surprisingly, the total number of customer complaints recorded by distributors under the Code of Conduct soared by 69 per cent from 2,601 in 2005/06 to 4,403 in 2006/07.

In response to the report findings, Western Power general manager customer services, Mark de Laeter, said maintaining, upgrading and expanding the Western Power network, which covered approximately 322,000 square kilometres, was a matter of balancing the need to overcome a historic period of under-spending on the health of the network while meeting the demands of exponential growth at a time of a severe skilled labour shortage and rising costs.

The report revealed the number of new connections grew by 65 per cent from 22,717 in 2005-06 to 36,874 in 2006-07.

Mr de Laeter said while Western Power recognised power reliability wasn't yet where customers wanted it to be, the overall reliability for the network of 99.9 per cent was a solid base.

Overall the frequency of power outages was relatively unchanged from previous reporting periods.

"The commitment in the last budget to invest a record $3.5 billion in the network over a four year period recognised the size of the workload facing the business and highlights the reality that the changes will not happen over night."

"It will take time for this investment to gain traction and translate into, improved reliability figures.

Mr de Laeter said Western Power was aiming for a 25 per cent improvement in reliability by 2009, but he acknowledged achieving the target would be more challenging as additional resources and funding were required to meet the record growth of the south west.

 

The full Western Power response is pasted below:

The electricity distributors' performance report released today by the Economic Regulation Authority (ERA) highlights the extent of the challenges involved in managing one of the world's largest isolated networks.

Western Power General manager Customer Services, Mark de Laeter, said maintaining, upgrading and expanding the Western Power network, which covers approximately 322,000 square kilometres, is a matter of balancing the need to overcome an historic period of under-spending on the health of the network while meeting the demands of exponential growth at a time of a severe skilled labour shortage and rising costs.

Last year an unusually high level of outages related to bushfires and lightning, and contributed to lower reliability performance.

Overall the frequency of power outages was relatively unchanged from previous reporting periods.

Mr de Laeter said while Western Power recognised power reliability wasn't yet where customers wanted it to be, the overall reliability for the network of 99.9 per cent was a solid base. He said work to improve reliability was ongoing and would continue in the coming years.

"The commitment in the last budget to invest a record $3.5 billion in the network over a four year period recognised the size of the workload facing the business and highlights the reality that the changes will not happen over night."

"It will take time for this investment to gain traction and translate into, improved reliability figures.

Reliability figures for the 06/07 period showed that;
- On average power was available across the network for 99.95 per cent of time,
- 23 per cent of power interruptions related to planned outages,
- 27 per cent of power interruptions related to factors beyond Western Power's control, such as car crashes, vandalism, storms, bushfires, lightning etc.
- 30 per cent of power interruptions related to equipment failure including pole top fires
- The bulk of the remaining outages, 18 per cent, related to faults of unknown cause. Reasons for these outages could include, lightning, debris blowing across powerlines etc. An unknown cause is recoded when no evidence of the cause is found.

"Western Power has a significant spending program to improve power reliability and is carrying out a record capital works program in a time of a severe skilled labour shortage.

"Western Power aims for a 25 per cent improvement in reliability by 2009.

"The level of growth in the network has made this target more challenging as additional resources and funding are required to meet the record growth of the south west," Mr de Laeter said.

Western Power is focusing on three key programs to improve reliability:

- The automation project. This involves installing hundreds of automated protection devices in targeted areas to reduce the impact on the network of an unplanned interruption and to reduce the time taken to locate faults.

- Targeted upgrading of poor performing feeders. This involves reinforcing the first few kilometres from substations of power lines to improve their performance. This is important because a fault close to a substation affects all the customers on a line

- 40 Worst Feeder Program. This is a targeted maintenance program that focuses work to the 40 poorest performing powerlines in the network, 20 in metropolitan and 20 in regional areas.

Reliability levels fluctuate substantially from year to year due to the occurrence of storms, lightning, bush fires, car crashes and vandalism.

 

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