Reassurance offered on network renewal

Richard Fletcher
Richard Fletcher
The new chief executive of Aurora Energy, Richard Fletcher, responds to the Otago Daily Times editorial of September 20.

Your recent editorial called for Aurora Energy to front up, and we welcome that opportunity.

We agree that it's our job to provide safe, reliable electricity supplies to the customers on our network. Low levels of investment over several decades have resulted in some network assets being in poor condition and in need of renewing.

Aurora Energy is now in a major phase of network renewal to provide safe and reliable power supply to Otago. Our priority over the next three years is to bring the backlog of renewal and maintenance under control. Public concern has spurred us to act faster, and that is positive.

We are investing more where it is needed. Last financial year we spent $94 million on network renewal and maintenance, almost double the level from two years ago.

  • We have committed significant investment in network assets, systems and people to service the network renewal programme.
  • We are reducing the large number of poor-condition poles and that is making a difference. In the last 18 months, we replaced or strengthened more than 9%, or 5000, of our 54,000 poles.
  • We have scaled up our inspection programme to improve the quality of information we hold on our assets and ensure it is up-to-date and accurate.
  • We have brought in two additional contracting firms, one based in Dunedin, the other in Central Otago, to boost resources in the field to deliver the work programme.
  • We want our customers throughout Otago to have confidence in what we are doing and have a clear understanding of the condition of our network assets and what this means. Recognising this need, shortly after starting as the new chief executive I initiated, in conjunction with the Commerce Commission, a comprehensive, independent review by Australian engineering experts WSP of the current state of our network.

The review by engineering consultants WSP is part way through and due to be completed by the end of October. Some have criticised us for not being open, but from the outset we have been committed to sharing the review findings publicly. We will do so in November.

Our asset management plan is published each year with details on what we plan to spend and where over the next 10 years. Our updated plan to fix the network and ensure future reliability will be published next month for everyone to read.

A reliable energy supply is important to customers. We have not met our reliability targets in recent years and we are targeting investment to improve reliability. The asset management plan and the independent review will greatly assist us to move forward with even greater certainty.

However, the scale of the network means it will take several years of carefully planned and implemented renewal and maintenance.

For example, we manage 6700km of lines and cables, 54,000 poles, 94,000 cross arms, 7000 distribution transformers and 40 substations.

So it will take time to rectify and while we do, you will see examples of assets that need replacing. We are prioritising our work to inspect and renew assets based on their condition and the consequence of failure.

How we make those decisions is also being assessed as part of the independent review.

We are committed to sharing our plans and progress and Aurora Energy will continue to do so through our regulatory disclosures, annual report, independent review findings, asset management plan and community updates.

As always, we welcome your input.

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