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Outages are the unkindest cuts

There were almost 100 power cuts in Wairarapa over the weekend. PHOTO/MARY ARGUE

Thousands without power as magpie causes outages

Severe weather and cold winds contributed to almost 100 power cuts in Wairarapa over the weekend and Transpower say it would be two years until outdated equipment is replaced.

There were 88 power cuts in Wairarapa that left 7300 customers without power.

A power cut closed both Masterton’s Bin Inn and Premier Workshop premises on Queen St on Tuesday.

Bin Inn owner Sally McQuade said the outage was not necessarily caused by wild weather.

She said a Powerco crew was working hard to restore a blown underground power cable and hoped the store would reopen yesterday.

A resident near Mauriceville said there had been four power cuts in the past four days at his home and they had been without power since 3am yesterday.

At 8.45am on Tuesday there were 104 customers without power in the region, however this continued to climb throughout the morning with 267 customers without power two hours later.

Outages on Powerco’s website reported a power cut in Tinui affected 90 properties at 6.45pm that had not been repaired by time of print on Tuesday night.

A power cut in May that caused outages to about 7000 homes was the result of a magpie flying into an outdated circuit breaker and was almost identical to a power cut in February 2020 where a magpie left about 10,000 customers without electricity.

At the time of the 2020 power cut, South Wairarapa District Council Mayor Alex Beijen sought a review to ensure steps were put in place to prevent the same thing from happening again.

“The ability of a bird to plunge the entire South Wairarapa into a blackout is not an acceptable situation to be in,” Beijen said.

Transpower general manager for grid delivery Mark Ryall apologised for the loss of electricity and said they were working on upgrading the network in Wairarapa.

“As you will be aware the outage was caused by an errant magpie – however, our investigations have also shown that the impact was greater due to a faulty piece of equipment, a circuit breaker, in the older 33kV switchyard.

“Had this circuit breaker behaved as intended, the only casualty would have been the magpie – in other words, we would not have had a loss of supply to the area.”

Ryall said that Transpower and Powerco had plans to retire the older switchgear including the circuit breaker and replace the equipment within two years.

“Transpower and Powerco have works planned on this substation which will retire the older 33kV outdoor switchgear, including the circuit breaker involved in this outage, which will also reduce the exposure to errant wildlife.

“Specifically, the work involves taking the older low voltage and outdoor switchyard and moving it to an indoor facility.

“That project is in the design phase now, and we expect it to be under way on the ground in the next two years.”

Beijen said he was happy the fault had been identified and would ensure the network is upgraded to prevent the frequent power cuts to the district.

“I’m pleased that the fault has been identified, and that work is programmed to prevent future issues.

“It is important that small rural communities receive due attention to infrastructure upgrades, and I will be monitoring Transpower’s upgrades to ensure our network is modernised to an acceptable minimum standard.”

Under Powerco’s customised price-quality path set by the Commerce Commission, Powerco has minimum reliability standards they must deliver, and must report annually to the commission including on quality standards that limit the frequency and duration of network outages.

General manager infrastructure regulation at the Commerce Commission Andy Burgess said there were no plans to investigate the latest outages.

“The commission has no plans to formally investigate the recent outages on Powerco’s network at this stage,” Burgess said.

“If we find that an electricity distribution business has not met the quality standards that have been set, we may seek a range of remedies in court against the distributor for that underperformance, including the imposition of pecuniary penalties, or an order that compensation be paid to parties that experienced loss or damage.

“The significant number of power outages across the country over the weekend is not unexpected given the weather conditions. If Powerco breaches its quality standards, we may take weather events into consideration in our investigations, and test network design and reliability standards.”

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