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To improve power reliability in pockets of the Mid West that have been experiencing frequent outages, Western Power will begin washing and siliconing of ‘live’ powerlines via helicopter in late February.

Western Power’s Executive Manager of Asset Management Gair Landsborough said using helicopters to wash and silicon live distribution lines was a first for Western Power and if successful would be extremely beneficial in mitigating reliability issues in areas impacted by environmental conditions.

“Washing and siliconing of power lines is a proven method of mitigating power reliability issues that result from pollution build up, like dust and salt,” he said.

“Many of the recent faults in the Mid West have been caused by high humidity conditions where moisture in the air, such as light rain, has combined with pollution built up on insulators. This can cause electrical sparks which result in protection equipment activating and/or pole top fires.

“This usually occurs between December and March when there is a run of very hot, dry and windy days followed by a sudden misty front.

“While power reliability has been better in the Mid West this past summer, there are some areas of the network that need further mitigation and siliconing and washing will help with this.

“We’re finalising a helicopter program targeting up to 400 insulators in the areas of Milo, Mt Adams, Dongara, Springfield, Port Denison and Yardarino to improve reliability in communities east of Dongara where frequent outages have been exacerbated by high humidity conditions.”

Mr Landsborough said ahead of summer Western Power had completed extensive work in the Mid West region to improve reliability and minimise bushfire risk and associated impacts on the network.

“Our data shows that overall power reliability improved for homes and businesses in the Mid West region in the month of December 2022 compared to December 2021. There have been 18 per cent fewer interruptions per customer and a reduction of average outage duration per customer of 43 per cent.

“Additionally, there was a fault reduction of 29 per cent in the region with 179 faults that resulted in an outage to one or more customers (lasting longer than a minute) during December 2022, down from 251 faults in December 2021.

“This was predominantly due to the work we’ve undertaken, weather conditions and changes to our restoration practices on high fire risk days, where we have been able to safely restore customers more quickly.

“There are however some areas that have not experienced this improved reliability, particularly east Dongara in the communities of Milo and Springfield and parts of Greenough and we’re instigating work packages, including siliconing and washing, to enhance the resilience of the network in these areas.”

Mr Landsborough said `live’ (energised) washing of lines by helicopter was trialled on the distribution network last year with great success.

“While we have always used helicopters to wash ‘live’ transmission lines, until now this method has not been used on our distribution network.

“We began a trial to test most importantly safety and effectiveness, and the outcomes and results were extremely positive.”

Western Power in the past had undertaken 'live’ siliconing and washing of lines via land-based crews until a safety incident in January 2020 where an employee was injured. This incident triggered Western Power to suspend live washing and siliconing by land-based crews until a safe practice could be found.

Mr Landsborough said Western Power invested more than $16M on bushfire mitigation in the Mid West including $2.5M on replacing conductors, $10M on pole replacement and reinforcement, $2M on insulator replacement and $1.5M on vegetation management.

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