Basin review, Markets

Go forth and prosper- Victoria’s expanding gas network

According to SP AusNet, the population of Melbourne’s outer suburbs is growing faster than any other area in Australia, which the company said is helping to expand the reticulated gas network.

Four of the five fastest growing municipalities in Australia in 2009-10 – Wyndham, Melton, Whittlesea and Cardinia – were on Melbourne’s fringe. During this period, the combined populations of these areas grew by 33,216 people – 7 per cent – according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

SP AusNet Gas Operations Manager Rob McDougall says that the company’s natural gas network has grown alongside new housing estates.

“Our gas network has been growing at an incredible rate over the past few years as existing suburbs expand and new suburbs are constructed in the western growth corridors.”?

“The municipalities of Wyndham and Melton have added 18,000 new residents in the last twelve months, with Werribee and the surrounding suburbs anticipated to expand by more than 25,000 new homes in the next 20 years,”? says Mr McDougall.

Victoria’s Growth Areas Authority is predicting that the greenfield developments in Wyndham, Melton, Whittlesea, Casey and Cardinia areas are forecast to add more than 90,000 new homes.

Three of the municipalities are within SP AusNet’s gas distribution network – Hume, Wyndham and Melton.

“New developments continue to be built – including in Armstrong Creek and Geelong South – with an estimated 20,000 customer connections predicted to come online over a 20-year period,”? says Mr McDougall. “Meeting these new connection forecasts is highly dependent on the Australian economy.”?

Between 2003 and 2011, SP AusNet increased the number of residential gas customers from 450,000 to around 600,000, along with 1,225 new commercial customers.

In particular, the main growth areas of Wyndham, Melton and Greater Geelong have added around 24,500, 24,000 and 11,000 residential gas customers respectively.

The housing market in Victoria was boosted by relatively strong macro-economic conditions throughout the period, with further Federal Government support.

“The property market was buoyed by Federal Government stimulus packages such as the First Home Buyers Grant and First Home Owner Regional Bonus,”? says Mr McDougall. “This has helped make housing more affordable, especially through Melbourne’s growth corridors.”?

Another driver of customer numbers is the expansion of the gas network to new areas under the Victorian Government’s Gas to Regional Towns program.

“Between 2005 and 2009, SP AusNet has extended the natural gas network to twelve regional towns throughout regional Victoria, which has added around 8,500 new residential and 170 commercial customers,”? said Mr McDougall.

These towns include Maiden Gully, Macedon Ranges, Creswick, Camperdown, Port Fairy and Barwon Heads.

Another Victorian focus for SP AusNet is its annual mains replacement program, which aims to replace approximately 90 km of low-pressure, mostly cast iron mains, with high-pressure polyethylene pipes.

“Our mains replacement program is carried out to improve safety, reliability and capacity by reducing leaks and outages.”

“We have a replacement target rate of about 90 km per year, which will enable the entire low-pressure distribution network to be decommissioned by 2025”, says Mr McDougall.

SP AusNet has also identified a number of initiatives that will deliver important operational benefits, including leakage detection and management, targeted asset replacement, and improvement in pressure management at the network fringe.

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