Power cut outrage

Fed up: Coronet Peak’s assistant manager Mark Sommerville in front of the Coronet Express, which stopped working for the third time in three weeks yesterday morning due to another power cut

Queenstown skifield bosses are fed up and requested an urgent meeting with power supply company Aurora Energy yesterday after a third power cut in as many weeks affected operations at Coronet Peak.

The situation’s been labelled ‘‘diabolical’’ and ‘‘totally unacceptable’’, with frustration levels reaching boiling point.

And Coronet boss Nigel Kerr says it’s a massive public safety issue, with the potential for a ‘‘perfect hypothermic storm’’ should the power go out while lifts are fully-loaded.

On June 22, when the mercury dipped to -9degC in places in the Whakatipu, power was cut to Arrowtown, Dalefield and Arthurs Point, including Coronet Peak, for several hours from about 8am.

Last Friday the same areas lost power again, and yesterday morning there was yet another power cut, affecting the same 2324 customers each time.

Kerr says yesterday’s skifield opening was delayed by about 40 minutes and it was only good fortune chairlift lines weren’t fully loaded on any occasion.

‘‘[Yesterday] we did have a 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 got the perfect hypothermic storm.’’

NZSki boss Paul Anderson says describing the situation as ‘‘unacceptable’’ is a ‘‘very euphemistic way of putting it’’.

‘‘We need to expect more from network providers.

‘‘We’ve reached out to Aurora to say we’re seeking an urgent meeting with them.

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

‘Not good enough’: NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson

Kerr echoes that and alleges the first two power cuts were caused by a cracked lightning arrestor, stemming from ‘‘a total lack of maintenance on the line’’, particularly the one running across the Dalefield hill — but Aurora Energy says it doesn’t know why it keeps happening (see their response below).

He further alleges he’s been told by an Aurora employee, by way of explanation, ‘‘we got a stadium’’.

That’s in reference to the almost $30 million in subvention payments Dunedin City Council (DCC)-owned Aurora and its then-sister company, Delta, paid towards Forsyth Barr Stadium over five years to 2016.

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

Kerr: ‘‘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.’’

For his part, Anderson says NZSki wants an assurance they’re doing ‘‘everything possible’’ to avoid more power cuts.

The impact on their business, and Queenstown, is significant, he says.

‘‘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.’’

Anderson says The Remarkables has an on-site generator, capable of running all of its chairlifts at a pinch, but they try to avoid using it because it runs 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.

‘‘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.’’

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult says he’s taking it up with Aurora ‘‘forthwith’’.

‘‘If they’re not performing, they’re not performing, and they need to be called out. I don’t
care what the problem is, it’s just unacceptable to have continuing power cuts — there should not be any reason for it these days.’’

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