Questions raised by falling poles

News Aurora Energy has sprung into action to safeguard its transmission network in Central Otago, after power poles fell over in Alexandra, will no doubt be a relief to many.

Slightly more than 100 extra Alexandra power poles have been added to its pole-nailing programme and another 360 will be nailed in Cromwell, Clyde and Roxburgh.

This is a good thing, as tensions are high in Alexandra after three poles fell over in the town in just over three months.

None fell completely to the ground, being supported by the power lines, and Aurora has referred to them as ''failings'' rather than ''fallings''. But when power poles are falling on people's fences and parked cars, and live wires are landing on roofs, the public is quite right not to be swayed by semantics.

The fact Aurora has moved so swiftly to reinforce another almost 500 poles is good news.

Aurora chairman Steve Thompson said the expansion of the pole-nailing programme was because while they did not know what the problem was with the condition two and three poles, they were determined to eliminate any risk they might pose.

Mr Thompson deserves congratulating for fronting up to the public and for now heading a company with a remediation programme that is finally almost complete. With Aurora's fast-track pole replacement programme scheduled to be completed by the end of the month, and all the additional Central Otago poles to be reinforced by early next year, Central Otago residents - and the unsung heroes in the entire power pole issue, the linesmen who replace damaged or dangerous poles - can no doubt sleep easier.

But the fallen poles, and the additional pole nailing, still prompt questions about what led to such deterioration of the network and the robustness of systems used to assess the poles.

The investigation into the pole that fell in Alexandra's Eureka St in August showed ''an issue with inspection methodology'' that ''didn't take into account pole top loading'', Mr Thompson said.

The inspection methodology had then immediately been changed.

The probes into the fallen poles in Chicago and Ventry streets are still being completed.

But the admission that an ''old'' methodology was being used, and that it had contributed to the falling of a power pole, is startling. Aurora leaders have all along defended their testing practices, only last week saying its pole-testing methods had been independently assessed and verified by engineering specialists.

What are consumers meant to make of the news that old testing methodology has now been confirmed as causing a power pole to fall on to a private property, coming to rest against a fence and causing live wires to fall on to the roof of a house with people inside at the time?

No doubt questions will continue, including about the safety of other condition two and three poles elsewhere in Otago. Will they now be reassessed? Have poles in Dunedin also been tested using old methodology? Do the condition two and three poles in Dunedin now pose a public safety risk?

Aurora may not like the public scrutiny it has been exposed to since the extent of the deterioration of its pole network became public knowledge, but an organisation tasked with matters of public safety, and which has links to ratepayer money, must accept it.

This includes investigations by the Commerce Commission into quality standard breaches by Aurora, and questions by public and private figures.

The majority of Otago residents may not be experts in the electricity industry, but they are entitled to voice their concerns, especially when Aurora has already signalled an intention to apply to the Commerce Commission for a customised price-quality path (CPP) to allow it to increase its lines charges for consumers to fund network upgrades.

Consumers may be relieved the network is finally close to being upgraded, but may find it hard to stomach paying for the upgrades themselves.

 

Comments

The failed pole in Eureka St was NOT condition two or three, it was a condition zero. I have already sent the ODT three images of that pole, after it was removed, two of which show the red tag in place. Thompson did not admit that an "old" methodology had been used to treat the poles. The methodology used was the current one up until the things the Eureka Street pole fell. A very methodology that he claimed was verified by industry experts and which he said the public could be 100 percent confident in! Thompson credibility is on the line here.
Pole nailing in Central Otago will, in most cases, NOT improve the safety of the pole. In many cases it will reduce it. It is window dressing, no more, no less