Sort it out, Aurora Energy!

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Queenstown’s mayor is demanding action after a snowfall in a ski resort, in 2018, left 4700 properties without power.

Jim Boult says the aftermath of Monday’s snow bomb is unacceptable.

Boult’s backed by NZSki boss Paul Anderson, who wants Aurora Energy to provide a network “resilient enough to withstand a normal snow event, which is all we’ve had”.

It took days to restore power to many of the properties in Arrowtown, Frankton, Dalefield, Queenstown and Glenorchy, as line crews faced treacherous off-road conditions.

Boult thanks the line crews who’ve worked in poor conditions to get communities reconnected.

But he says: “I’ve placed a call yesterday to the CEO of Aurora to say ‘we do get snow and we don’t expect half the district to be without power’.

“I have asked for an explanation and a plan of how they intend to put things right.

“I’m no expert in these matters but I’ve asked them for a proposal and I’ll look at that, perhaps ask for some advice, and we’ll take it from there.”

The Commerce Commission announced on Monday it is taking Aurora Energy to the High Court, alleging the Dunedin City Council-owned company has breached regulated quality standards by under-investing in infrastructure such as poles, cables and transformers.

Aurora supplies electricity to nearly 90,000 customers across Queenstown Lakes, Central Otago and Dunedin.

A spokesman for the company says: “At this stage there is nothing to suggest that the condition of Aurora Energy’s power poles was a factor in weather-related power outages.”

Some Queenstown poles are nearing the end of their useful life, he says. There are least six with red tags (not structurally safe for engineers to climb) and 18 with blue tags (defective) on Malaghans Road alone.

Poles in the Queenstown area will be replaced or strengthened as required as part of that multi-year renewal programme.

The Aurora Energy spokesman says now the emergency response is almost complete, the company will investigate the root cause of the faults across the district.

“The Wakatipu community is right to ask why the extreme weather caused disruption to power supplies.”

Early indications are most related to trees falling on overhead lines.

Aurora has an active pro-gramme of vegetation man-agement, he says, “but most of the trees that cause disruptions are outside our regulated cutting zone and we have no authority to manage them”.

The sector has been calling for reform in this area.

“We recognise the incon-venience of power outages, particularly in cold weather, but all overhead power systems are susceptible to extreme weather and the Wakatipu Basin is no exception.”

It will provide Boult with analysis and possible im-provements.

NZSki boss Paul Anderson says power was restored to Coronet Peak relatively quickly but The Remarkables was out for about 24 hours.

“We’re certainly thankful for the effort to get us back on and we hope they further invest in the network to improve resilience.

“We’ve got no contractual remedies as a business but it does cost us a lot of money when we’re down.”

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz

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