Conflict of interest denied

Derek Todd.
Derek Todd.
Aurora Energy insists the review of its electricity network is independent, despite the man once in charge of its power pole maintenance programme now working for the company carrying out the review.

Derek Todd, the former Delta asset management general manager, is now the Dunedin branch business manager for WSP Opus.

WSP Opus is the New Zealand operation of WSP, the international engineering consultancy carrying out the review for Aurora.

Mr Todd's previous role at Delta included responsibility for the maintenance of Aurora's power poles, which hit the headlines when concerns about neglected poles posing a threat to public safety were raised in 2016.

Mr Todd resigned about the same time, citing medical reasons, but took up his new role with WSP Opus in July last year.

Mr Todd could not be contacted yesterday, but Aurora spokesman Gary Johnson said the review ''most certainly is independent''.

It was being carried out by WSP's Melbourne office, and Aurora had received written assurances none of the company's Dunedin staff was involved, Mr Johnson said.

''And that same assurance has been provided to the Commerce Commission to their satisfaction, as well.

''Obviously, where there is a potential conflict of interest, that always needs to be managed, and has been in this case.

''The closest we get is the drone operator is out of Invercargill.''

Former Delta employee Richard Healey, who resigned and blew the whistle on the state of Aurora's power poles in late 2016, said staff from WSP in Melbourne were working in the WSP Opus office in Dunedin.

The office was ''chock full of Australians compiling the report for Aurora'', he said.

''They're all sitting there. So it's not being run out of Melbourne . . . and you'll find also in that office is Derek Todd.

''I simply don't know how much interaction there is between them ...''

Mr Johnson said that was ''not our understanding'', but the claim would be checked.

Mr Healey was also concerned the poor state of Aurora's existing network information would affect the review's findings.

He recently inspected one section of a pair of power lines, running from Cromwell to Wanaka, and counted 108 red and orange-tagged poles.

Aurora's existing digital records showed 30 tagged poles on the same section of line, suggesting the company's records did not match reality.

A review that drew on Aurora's data would not represent the true state of the network, and ''sample'' in-field inspections, checking a small number of poles, would not suffice either, as the methodology was inadequate, he believed.

Mr Johnson said Mr Healey's criticism was based on ''a series of assumptions and allegations and hypotheticals'', but an independent review would ''form a view on the accuracy and quality of the information we hold''.

''We will share that with the public once it's completed.''

A Commerce Commission spokesman said it had ''sought and received written assurances and is satisfied the review is independent''.


I wonder who came second at the recruitment stage.

Oh dear oh dear. When those involved in this fiasco cannot see that there is a justified perception of a conflict of interest, which reduces the credibility of the investigation, then we have to wonder about the competence of those making the decisions.