Power pole 'concerns' to be raised

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult will raise "significant concerns" over Aurora Energy’s potentially dangerous power poles with the company’s chief executive next week.

Jim Boult.
Jim Boult.

The "please explain" meeting next Friday  with Aurora chief executive Grady Cameron  follows a terse exchange of letters, which the council has released to the Otago Daily Times.

It piles pressure on the beleaguered company, which was upbraided by the Central Otago District Council over the same issue last month.

Mr Boult has not been mollified by Aurora’s plans to spend an extra $26million on pole replacements.

The mayor, a former Christchurch International Airport chief executive, said he told Mr Cameron he continued to have "significant concerns".

In a letter written on November 8, Mr Boult said  he was particularly worried about "the lack of specifics for the replacement programme".

He called for an urgent meeting, which has been scheduled for next week.

"At the meeting I would expect to see a specific roll-out plan for pole replacement across Queenstown Lakes district that targets both the short-term crisis in the district, as well as a more comprehensive replacement programme to ensure that we do not face this type of situation again," Mr Boult said in the letter.

Only two and a-half weeks after the letter was written, an 11,000-volt line from a red-tagged pole in Kelvin Heights came down near an access track to a public walkway, sparking a vegetation fire and cutting power to about 1000 customers.

Aurora’s maintenance programme shot to national prominence in October, when ex-Delta employee Richard Healey blew the whistle on the "serious neglect" of its network.

The company has vowed to take on extra staff so it can replace 1930 of the worst timber poles in the Queenstown Lakes-Central Otago area by the end of next year.

Its pole programme will accelerate from about 50 poles a month to more than 300 a  month from March next year.

Poles near schools and public areas would be replaced first.

Following Mr Healey’s revelations, Mr Cameron wrote to Mr Boult and  council chief executive Mike Theelen stating Delta and Aurora remained "very committed to health and safety" and it was taking immediate steps to address the threat to "public confidence".

In his response, on October 31, Mr Boult said he was "heartened, though not assured" at its review of the network.

He blasted as "completely inadequate" the company’s original poles replacement plan, to replace "condition zero" and "condition 1" poles over four years.

About two-thirds of those poles across Aurora’s network are in the Queenstown Lakes-Central Otago area.

"We are entering our busy summer tourist season and we need as a community to be in a position to make visitors to the district, as well as citizens, feel safe," Mr Boult said.

Mr Cameron then detailed the company’s fast-tracked replacement plan and budget boost in a letter on November 3.

Aurora expected to employ three extra maintenance crews, on top of the extra two, in the Queenstown Lakes-Central Otago area, he said.

WorkSafe’s energy safety arm is auditing Aurora.

In an emailed statement Mr Cameron said: "We’ll have a further update on progress in the past four weeks, including planning for the accelerated pole programme."

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