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Stuck without fuel and no generators

Wairarapa could be stranded and facing a double blow of a severe fuel shortage and almost no diesel generators should a natural disaster strike.

Wairarapa Engineering Lifelines Association said a recent report into the resilience of the region’s roads found that the availability of generators for hire was “extremely limited”.

It said that sourcing and distributing fuel would not be possible to any great capacity.

Wairarapa Engineering Lifelines Association chair Adrienne Staples said that most Wairarapa petrol stations did not have the capacity to run on generators, so getting fuel out of the ground would be nearly impossible.

“There is only one petrol station in Wairarapa [Faulknors Mobil] currently wired to take a generator.

All the others could well have fuel and they might be able to get a generator from somewhere but it’s not something that you can just plug into a powerpoint.”

“When you consider if
we had a major emergency that had slips and broken bridges, we’re going to need heavy machinery and fuel, and we could have fuel in the ground that we can’t get out,” Staples said. She said the only places that had generators in Wairarapa were councils, Wairarapa Hospital, and emergency services. She said a lot of dairy farmers also had generators because they would need to continue miking their cows.

Without generators, many homes and businesses across the region could be left without power for days or even weeks.

“The chances that the region will be cut off from the rest of the North Island for weeks following an earthquake, and for days following some flooding events, are very real,” the association said.

It said that bringing supplies to Wairarapa by air or sea would also be heavily restricted, and it would not make much difference to the supply chain in the region.

The association said the region was vulnerable to battering from natural hazards including earthquakes, but increasingly from more regular storms and floods.

It said some organisations, including medical centres, pharmacies, aged care facilities, and fuel stations, could find that no generators or fuel could be delivered to them in an emergency.

Staples said people needed to be aware that there weren’t many generators on offer from hire shops, and even if people wanted one, they probably couldn’t get one.

She said in an emergency akin to the Kaikoura earthquake, Wairarapa could be isolated for several weeks.

“I suppose if it was a localised emergency mostly centred in Wairarapa, perhaps we could expect some help from elsewhere in the region, but that would depend on access and if it’s passable – we could be on our own for several weeks.”

The association said people and businesses that would need a generator to get through an emergency should consider installing an alternative power supply.

“Happily, the relative affordability of renewable energy, including solar, is becoming increasingly viable for many.”

It said power storage, by battery or fuel for a generator, should be considered to get through at least three weeks.

“It’s not good filling up a drum with diesel and keeping it in the shed for five years, but when you go to use it it’s full of water,” Staples said.

The association said it was important to plan mitigation efforts for closed roads.

“Alternative logging tracks, for more robust but likely
lower-capacity vehicles, will provide some relief in limited locations, but will not provide the high-capacity supply routes we need to keep our people and commerce sustained.”

Staples said it would be difficult to convince fuel companies to spend their own money to make themselves generator ready if they don’t want to. “We have no power to do that.”

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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