Aurora review independence questioned

Michael van Doornik
Michael van Doornik
The man who, in a 2018 review, found most of Aurora’s assets posed a low risk to public safety, reliability of supply and the environment, despite 35 incidences of protection systems failing, has been contracted to undertake an independent review of the company’s reliability.

In the past six weeks, thousands of customers in Central Otago were left without power for up to 10 hours during unplanned outages.

The contracted company Energy Networks Consulting, a Melbourne-based company, has one director listed on its website — Michael van Doornik.

At time of the 2018 review, Mr van Doornik was employed by WSP, an international engineering consulting company.

The independence of that review was questioned at the time by former Delta employee Richard Healey, who resigned and blew the whistle on the state of Aurora’s power poles in late 2016.

Derek Todd, the former Delta asset management general manager, was the Dunedin branch business manager for WSP which carried out the review.

Mr Healey said staff from the firm’s Melbourne office were working in Dunedin.

His claim was disputed by Aurora and a Commerce Commission spokesman said it had "sought and received written assurances and is satisfied the review is independent".

Retired electrical engineer Steve Tilleyshort, who was a network designer and planner in Central Otago for 20 years, said it was difficult to find someone completely independent in Australasia.

At that level it was actually a small industry and most people would know each other through education, employment or conferences, he said.

In a statement sent to media yesterday, Aurora chief executive Richard Fletcher said the company had taken steps to address all known faults and were investigating the cause of the outages.

Richard Fletcher
Richard Fletcher
Earlier this week, Aurora advised customers between Clyde and Alexandra drones with cameras would be flying along the main power lines in the area.

"We’ve commissioned the independent review to provide an additional, expert lens over these recent outages."

When Aurora Energy has used Energy Networks Consulting in the past, it ensured the Commerce Commission approved the level of independence, Dr Fletcher said.

"We are confident the report will be informative and helpful."

Aurora was approved a five-year investment programme in 2021 by the Commerce Commission. The customised price quality path (CPP) allowed the company to recover $563 million from its customers for much needed upgrade work through price increases greater than would otherwise be allowed by the Commerce Commission.

Yesterday Dr Fletcher said one of the commitments the company made at the start of the CPP, which runs until 2026, was an independent mid-period review to assess if it was spending money in the right areas and delivering expected network safety outcomes. That review had recently been completed and would be submitted to the Commerce Commission.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said he had been asking for an independent review and was pleased it was happening.