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Power not getting to the people as unplanned outages wreak havoc
Wairarapa plagued by power outages with 16 large-scale power outages in 10 months

GRACE PRIOR
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There were 16 unplanned large-scale power outages in Wairarapa from January to October this year. And with the latest outage hitting on Monday night, the region is not out of the woods yet.

Powerco said the three largest outages were on October 24, impacting 4607 customers in Masterton; October 31, impacting 2223 customers in Featherston; and January 9, impacting 2112 customers in Featherston.

Powerco considered large-scale outages those that affected more than 1000 customers.

Powerco workers repair a power pole in Masterton after a car crashed into it in February. PHOTO/FILE

It said the causes of the unplanned outages in Wairarapa had included trees in lines, high winds, animal interference by birds and possums, and damaged equipment.

On Monday evening, an additional power outage affected 117 customers in Te Ore Ore, Masterton.

“The outage began around 5.20pm, after which a field crew was dispatched to investigate the cause and restore power to customers,” a Powerco spokesperson said.

“They determined the outage was caused by a fault at the feeder, having found a blown insulator at a power pole.”

Powerco said crews made repairs, and all customers were reconnected by 9.20pm on Monday.

Featherston ward councillor Brenda West said it made her wonder when she had to keep the camping gear handy in case of another unplanned outage.

She said Wairarapa had experienced too many outages this year.

West said she thought the power cuts were in a complicated environment that raised several concerns.

“Consumers are becoming more reliant on power, with electric vehicles, heat pumps, technology, and the ability to work from home becoming the new normal.

“The outages have economic and social impacts. Businesses are having to turn customers away because they are unable to provide food, accommodation, supplies or services.”

The endless wave of power cuts came as Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods made public an investigation into a power cut on August 9 that left more than 34,000 households across New Zealand without electricity on one of the coldest nights of the year.

The investigation found that there had been no need for any disconnections.

It is unclear how many Wairarapa properties were affected during this outage.

Woods said the report also found that Transpower, as the electricity system operator, had inadequate visibility of the extent of that discretionary load. The report stated that the Electricity Authority must review and strengthen its oversight of the system operator.

The Ministry of Business and Innovation [MBIE] report into power outages on August 9 said turning off any householder’s electricity, apart from their hot water cylinder, should not have happened.

At the time of this disconnection, Powerco stated it was responding to the Transpower request for electricity lines companies nationwide to reduce the load on the national grid.

“Controlled hot water systems across Powerco’s electricity network areas have been temporarily switched off to reduce network load and avoid the need to disconnect any customers.”

As a result, customers’ hot water systems were progressively switched back on through the night once peak power load had passed and Transpower gave instructions to do so, Powerco said.

The following day, on August 10, Powerco issued a statement to say it was proactively managing hot water systems across its electricity network areas of which Wairarapa was included.

It said Transpower had issued a notice to lines companies signalling insufficient electricity generation to cover the morning’s peak power use.

“There’s been no request to reduce load on the national grid at this stage. We are, however, being proactive and managing controlled hot water systems to help lessen the load on the National Grid and avoid the need to disconnect customers,” Powerco service delivery and systems operations general manager Karen Frew said.

Woods said she had written to the chairmen of Transpower and the Electricity Authority requesting that they consider recommendations in the report and provide her with quarterly updates on progress.

“I do not want households to be put in this situation again. Kiwis deserve more.

“By implementing the report’s 18 recommendations, I believe we will be better placed in future.”

Pointing to a much larger issue with electrification and decarbonisation, Woods said it was clear that the market needed much greater demand-side participation.

She said in the future, better use of hot water control, known as ripple control, and other technologies were likely to be crucial to management.

Powerco customer experience manager Haydn Davies said along with the response of field crews, Powerco was also investing in projects across its network to reduce the likelihood of power outages in the future.

“Powerco currently has a number of projects taking place in the Wairarapa region, most recent of which took place in eastern Greytown, as part of a $2 million electricity upgrade for the area.”

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