A large number of Canberra's electricity poles would need to be replaced in the next decade, while most poles in some suburbs are already too old and are ready to be replaced, a redacted report prepared for the ACT government suggests.
The ACT's grid also does not have plans in place that would allow it to meet demand if electricity was to rapidly replace natural gas, and the report said further work was needed to address what will happen when natural gas is switched off in Canberra.
The report prepared for the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate in October 2020 said the pole asset class in the ACT had approximately 20 per cent of its life remaining, and it would cost $344.3 million to replace.
There were 48,889 electricity distribution poles in the ACT in December 2020, and the average age of the poles was 35. There were 27,160 timber poles, with an average age of 48.
An unredacted copy of the AECOM-prepared report, obtained by the Sunday Canberra Times, shows the average electricity pole condition in all Canberra districts is rated between adequate and marginal.
The total replacement cost of poles is largest in Belconnen, where the report estimated a cost of $84.6 million. The replacement cost in Tuggeranong was $67.9 million, North Canberra was $56.7 million and South Canberra was $45.1 million.
The mean asset condition for electricity poles in Gungahlin and Molongo, among Canberra's most recently developed areas, was rated as adequate. The report estimated the total replacement cost in Gungahlin was $6.6 million and in Molonglo it was $3.7 million.
The report said electricity poles in Gowrie and Fadden had the worst mean asset condition, with the average pole in both suburbs considered at or past the end of its useful life. The replacement cost in Fadden was $2.9 million and $4.2 million in Gowrie.
"The replacement of wooden poles with concrete and fibreglass poles over the next regulatory period will ensure continued reliability and safety of the network and will contribute to a reduction in future maintenance expenditure," the report said.
Evoenergy told the Australian Energy Regulator in 2018 the majority of its poles were timber and experienced different rates of deterioration, but pole refurbishment could extend the life of some wooden poles for about eight years.
Evoenergy's submission for the 2019-24 regulatory period said there were more than 2000 wooden poles older than 70 years in the ACT, and the expected life of the poles was 80 years.
A spokeswoman for Evoenergy said the grid operator was already developing its plan for the 2024-29 period, including how it would operate and invest in the network and what costs would be passed on to customers, that would need to be signed off by the Australian Energy Regulator.
"Evoenergy's urban distribution pole assets are inspected every five years as part of our ongoing inspection program. The inspection program identifies the condition of each pole and assesses if the pole requires maintenance or replacement, and the information we use to assess pole condition is factored into our planning and estimates of future pole replacements," the spokeswoman said.
"Ongoing inspections minimise the number of poles we need to replace, which reduces the need for power interruptions and costs to our customers."
An ACT government spokesman said the government understood Evoenergy was capable of maintaining the electricity network, including poles within the costs assessed by the pricing regulator.
The AECOM report noted Evoenergy had continued to meet its performance obligations and had policies in place to manage its assets, including electricity poles.
"In these circumstances, it seems likely that Evoenergy will continue to effectively manage its risk of asset failure in the future, and therefore that it will keep its assets in approximately their current satisfactory state of repair for the foreseeable future," the report said.
The report said electricity supply capacity across the ACT's electricity grid was suitable based on current projections for increased demand, with the forecast load on the network between 68 and 69 per cent in 2041.
"If electricity were to be used to substitute for natural gas, however, total energy demand would increase by at least 40 to 60 per cent. Evoenergy's current plans do not provide for this scale of increase," the report said.
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