Electricity regulator EnergySafety will be told to upgrade its information for the owners of private power poles as the State Government weighs a new mandatory inspection system backed by civil penalties.
Energy Minister Mike Nahan told _The West Australian _yesterday that EnergySafety would be directed to overhaul its information for owners of private power poles, an apparent concession that existing materials that explain pole owners' obligations are not up to scratch.
Western Power and regional energy provider Horizon might be asked to distribute this new material, Dr Nahan said, but he ruled out the State taking over liability or management of WA's estimated 200,000 private poles.
"Western Power will not, nor will the State in any other entity, be taking over liability or responsibility for those poles," he said.
Dr Nahan said he believed most private poles were on mine sites or farms and well maintained.
But he admitted the Government's knowledge about the extent and condition of private power poles was poor and an audit would be the first step in investigating the problem, which came to light after the Parkerville fire was sparked when a private pole fell.
The Government believes inspecting, replacing and reinforcing every private power pole could cost up to $1 billion.
Dr Nahan said the Government was still considering its policy options, a process that has been complicated because Commerce Minister Michael Mischin, who has portfolio oversight of EnergySafety, is still on leave.
But Dr Nahan flagged a compulsory inspection scheme to be overseen by EnergySafety, which would require pole owners to have inspections carried out by contractors at set intervals - possibly every three or four years - with stiff fines for non-compliance up to thousands of dollars.
Despite EnergySafety's preliminary report on the cause of the Parkerville fire, class-action lawyer Kevin Banks-Smith claims Western Power could be liable.
Dr Nahan said he did not believe Western Power was liable but he could not say for sure.