The head of WA’s State-owned electricity distributor has described as “mental” traditional poles-and-wires services to remote areas with almost no customers when more efficient standalone options are available.

With Western Power in the process of securing a new five-year spending plan, chief executive Guy Chalkley told business representatives the utility would increasingly look to new technologies where it was feasible. Western Power wants permission to raise $7.9 billion from its customers between this year and 2022 as part of its latest “access arrangement”, which has been lodged with the Economic Regulation Authority.

The plan would involve about $6.2 billion of capital investment and operating expenditure to cope with new growth, the changing needs of consumers and safety and maintenance requirements.

But Mr Chalkley said the pace of technological change meant Western Power wanted to avoid committing to specific solutions, particularly in areas where standalone solutions could prove cheaper and more reliable than replacing ageing poles and wires.

He cited a 60km line owned by Western Power that serviced just three customers — a situation that he suggested may be economically inefficient compared with other options such as batteries and solar panels.

“If you think of a lot of utilities around the world, there’s a very small percentage of your customers that actually generates a lot of cost,” Mr Chalkley told an event hosted by the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s WA branch.

“So, if you think of WA, we could give you examples of 60km distribution lines feeding three customers. Think about that — that is mental. That is fine when the only solution was poles and wires but you have got alternatives now. You’ve got to say ‘can you work with the customer to give them a solution that’s just as safe, just as reliable, just as affordable but it doesn’t have to be a 60km line’? Those decisions you’ve got to reach soon because you’re going to be at a decision point where you’ve got to put the 60km back in again.”