Meridian boss says power cuts close

The chief of one of the country's biggest electricity groups says the danger of power cuts this winter is closer than at any time he can remember.

Meridian Energy's Keith Turner told Parliament's commerce select committee that a meeting of sector bosses on Wednesday had looked at pressures on the system.

He believed there would be enough generation and demand control to cover unexpected failures, but: ‘‘It is a very fine margin, finer than I have seen it in my career.''

Dr Turner will step down from the role on March 31, after 39 years in the sector.

Problems and worries were caused by lower than usual lake in-flows, the Cook Strait cable being down to one operational pole, the Huntly power station not operating at full capacity because of cooling issues, and the unplanned closure of a Contact Energy plant in Taranaki coinciding with planned maintenance at other plants, he said.

Work was under way to mitigate the risk, with the second pole of the Cook Strait cable being partially reopened.

Newly appointed Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie said security of supply was a major issue facing Vector and the industry. A series of factors had combined to put the national system on edge and it would not take much before brownouts, where residential hot-water systems were closed down, had to be carried out.

Transpower chief executive Patrick Strange told Radio New Zealand yesterday that a decision to reactivate the power cable Pole One in the Cook Strait to avert a potential power crisis would be made next month. The cable was shut down last year, because of age and safety concerns.

Genesis Energy - the country's largest energy retailer - said last night that it was expected that this winter could be tight in terms of supply, but there were a lot of variables.

‘‘The inflows of rain into the southern lakes in the South Island has been below average in the last month or so and if there is no rain in autumn, then things could be pretty tight,'' spokesman Richard Gordon said.

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