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We Pay To Keep The Power On!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Yesterday's power outage in Auckland should shows that we still have bad electricity infrastructure - yet we pay through the nose to keep the power on.

Putting aside the pyrotechnics involved in gaining access to Waikato farmer Steve Meier's property to repair yesterday's fault, the key issue is this - we have limited (and ageing) electricity assets while still paying huge power bills to supposedly fund promised upgrades.

Where are these upgrades?

On television last night, we had Transpower chief executive Patrick Strange provide us with, in my view, a very timid explanation that there is a new second substation (owned by Contact Energy) coming online in May at Otahuhu. Won't the people of Auckland now be overjoyed to hear that? To wait five more months during a time when there will be steadily growing demand as the weather cools down is unbelievable. The possibility of another major fault occuring before then is great too.

Let's not forget either that there are other critical infrastructure upgrades required. One of them is the Cook Strait cable which transfers electricity between the North and South Islands. If this critical transmission link were to fail (and it nearly has on several occassions) then it won't be just Auckland whistling in the dark - it will be all of us and for a lengthy period of time.

In a city like Auckland with a mushrooming population, the demands on existing electricity assets will become even greater in the next five to ten years. More needs to be done to invest in ecologically friendly power sources to feed our largest city as well as the rest of the country. We need to re-establish national planning, ownership and coordination of electricity supply. This is because most New Zealanders don't want a continuation of free market electricity policies that have given us high prices - and in return for what? Excessive profits for power companies while ordinary customers get deteriorating service as was witnessed in Auckland yesterday. I believe that the power sector reforms announced in November by Gerry Brownlee would not prevent a recurrence of what happened yesterday. If anything, I believe we are set for even more blackouts and brownouts.

As for Steve Meier, what does he think he's doing? I do have sympathy for Transpower in terms of their having to deal with an apparently difficult landowner like Mr Meier. While I have had some sympathy for protests waged by Waikato farmers against having new transmission towers placed on their land over the years as well, Meier's actions yesterday in denying Transpower contractors access to his property went way too far. The contractors had an urgent and essential job to do and I support Transpower's actions in calling the police out on this occassion. Revelations that the police have seized 11 firearms from Meier's property also leads me to think as to who is this guy? Why the need for all those guns? That's almost enough firepower to keep a small army going.  Furthermore, if Meier was so concerned about the tree growth which threatened Transpower's lines on his property, then why didn't he let the contractors on at that stage to fix the problem?  It is apparent that Meier is contradicting himself and in this case, he has some explaining to do (and I am eager to hear his side of the story on TVNZ's Close Up tonight). In light of what's happened, I do agree with calls made today that the law should be changed to allow public utilities to have access to their essential assets if they happen to be on private property, particularly in an emergency.

But one thing is clear - we need Gerry Brownlee and the electricity sector to keep the power on but at less cost- now!







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