Aurora chided over skifield power cuts

NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson says the situation is "unacceptable", and the company has...
NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson says the situation is "unacceptable", and the company has requested an urgent meeting with DCC-owned Aurora Energy. Photo: ODT files
Coronet Peak ski area manager Nigel Kerr says power supply failures are posing a massive health and safety risk for NZSki’s customers, and he fears a "perfect hypothermic storm".

Yesterday morning, the skifield, along with more than 2300 Arrowtown, Dalefield and Arthurs Point residents, lost power for the third time in three weeks - and the second time since last Friday.

Mr Kerr said it was only good fortune the outage happened before the skifield opened.

"We did have one patroller on the line, but if it had been five minutes later, we could have had a full line of people who are sitting up there in the cold while we back up and run them off.

"What happens if this happens - and there’s a good chance it will - when we’re at full power?

"If it’s cold or windy, then you’ve go the perfect hypothermic storm," he said.

NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson said the situation was "unacceptable", and the company yesterday requested an urgent meeting with Dunedin City Council-owned Aurora Energy.

"We need to expect more from network providers.

"While I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, it’s reasonably well-documented that there has been an under-investment in the network."

Mr Kerr alleged the two earlier power cuts, on June 22 and July 1, were caused by a cracked lighting arrestor, stemming from "a total lack of maintenance on the line".

He further alleged he had been told by an Aurora employee recently, by way of explanation, "we got a stadium".

That is a reference to the almost $30 million in subvention payments Aurora and its then-sister company, Delta, paid towards Forsyth Barr Stadium over the five years to 2016.

Two investigations found Aurora under-invested in its network, including during the period it was paying subvention payments.

"We’re at the far-flung end of the universe as far as Aurora is [concerned] ... It’s decades of under-investment and pillaging of profit by the DCC to the benefit of its ratepayers, not Aurora’s, or Delta’s, customers."

However, Aurora Energy people and customer general manager Sian Sutton said the company was "unable to speculate" on the cause of the faults until an investigation was complete.

That was expected to be finished by the end of this week.

"Until we find the cause and can repair it, there is a possibility it may happen again.

"If it does, we would like to reassure customers that we are able to restore power quickly."

Mr Anderson said the impact on the business, and Queenstown, was significant.

"You’ve obviously got reputational issues, for a start, when you’ve got a network provider who can’t do the one job that they have to do, which is keep the lights on, let alone the health and safety issues if we’ve got a full ski area with power going down," Mr Anderson said.

The Remarkables had an on-site generator, capable of running all of its chairlifts if required, but NZSki tried to avoid using that because it ran on diesel.

"We would rather be in a position where we can rely on clean power coming off the national grid, rather than having to burn diesel, for health and safety reasons," Mr Anderson said.

"If you end up in a situation where you’ve got an unreliable network, as it looks like we have, you’ve got major power users like ourselves having to look to do what you call embedded generation, and we certainly do not want to be burning diesel to do that."

tracey.roxburgh@odt.co.nz

 

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