Hotel owner hits out at Aurora

The Chamberson owner Richard Buitenhek is unhappy his business will lose power early next week....
The Chamberson owner Richard Buitenhek is unhappy his business will lose power early next week. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
A Dunedin hotel set to be plunged into darkness on Monday night says it is "ridiculous" Aurora Energy will not pay for an emergency generator.

The Chamberson Hotel owner Richard Buitenhek said he was now scrambling to arrange a generator ahead of the planned power outage.

Aurora Energy will cut power in part of central Dunedin between 11pm on Monday and 3am on Tuesday to carry out work as part of a five-year, $500 million upgrade of its southern electricity network.

The Chamberson Hotel on the corner of lower Stuart St and Cumberland St is affected. Independent resolution service Utilities Disputes was now looking into the situation after Aurora did not respond to the hotel’s concerns within a set timeframe, Mr Buitenhek said.

However, he had been warned a resolution would not be possible before the planned outage, leaving him to make his own arrangements to prevent a disruption.

He hoped to be reimbursed for the generator by Aurora Energy afterwards.

As a small, family-owned business, it was incredibly frustrating not to be given a voice in the actions of a large corporation.

"Even though it’s a $500m project, they haven’t budgeted for temporary power generators to the businesses that are likely to be affected by the power outage — it just seems ridiculous," he said.

He understood some places such as education centres and hospitals would be assisted, but businesses outside of those categories were not helped.

A longer overnight outage in February had left guests unable to use power outlets, including for CPAP machines and other medical devices, nor were they able to use the lift.

"We had a number of negative social media reviews. We needed to provide a great deal of financial compensation to the guests who did stay that night for the inconvenience caused.

"We then went to Aurora and said, look, we’re not happy with it and we believe somebody should be providing ongoing power supply to a business like ours that operates 24/7."

The power company then informed it of the upcoming April 22 outage.

Work would be centred on ASB house, but it would affect his business and some surrounding businesses.

Delta indicated it could set up a temporary generator, although as it did not manage the project budget this would need approval by Aurora.

In early March, Aurora told the hotel it would not provide a generator, as this was not budgeted for in the project scope.

The hotel then complained to Utilities Disputes, which required a window of 20 working days to give Aurora the chance to resolve the complaint.

During that time Mr Buitenhek said they heard nothing more from Aurora.

"Utility Disputes have said, ‘we’ll now go and try and contact Aurora and collect more information and then we’ll decide what we do from here.’

"I said, well, OK, that’s fine, but this planned outage is going to happen on Monday.

"We’re in the process now of trying to find a temporary power supply ourselves."

He said he was unsure what the temporary generator would cost, but expected it would be in the thousands — a small amount compared to the total project budget.

Aurora customer and connections general manager Mark Pratt said he was unable to comment specifically on the complaint as a formal complaint process was under way.

He said where possible, the company planned work to minimise the impact on customers, and with the majority of businesses in the area operating during the daytime, work has been scheduled for overnight.

"We are aware this is disruptive for some businesses in the area that operate 24/7 and our customer experience team has been in direct contact with them to advise that the outage is necessary to keep our contractors, staff and the public safe while the work is carried out."

Information on the Aurora website recommends alternative power supplies be sought by the business community for outages.