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Low Hydro Lakes Threaten West Coast Blackouts

New Zealand is facing an electricity generation crisis due to low hydro-lake levels, with power blackouts becoming more likely on the West Coast as Trustpower prepares to shut down its generating stations. Maree Howard reports.

Trustpower spokesman Graeme Purches told Scoop this morning that the company would shut down its Dillams, Arnold, and Wahapo stations if there was no rain within the next 24 to 48 hours.

"The real problem is that Transpower has been requiring us to continue generating electricity on the Coast to maintain the stability of the national grid, If that requirement was not made then we could have balanced our generation more easily," he said.

As a result, Trustpower is currently pumping mud and some systems are being turned off.

"There will be a very heavy load control and it may reach the point of rolling outages," he said.

"This highlights the need for some more generation over there (West Coast) to reduce the risk."

Mr Purches said that if a proposed new hydro dam on the Arnold River had been given approval it would have been used to minimise power shortages at peak times.

Trustpower has been seeking approval from the Government for a new 60-megawatt scheme for more than 18 months but, so far, approval has been withheld by the lead Ministers, apparently for ecological and conservation reasons.

New power generation plants have been mooted on the West Coast for many years. The current and previous governments have denied approvals in one historic case, Westport, because of the habitat of a snail.

The Christchurch Press editorial this morning says "Giving more power to the people has been a goal of successive electricity reformers. Time and again they lauded the more-market model as the panacea for New Zealand's power problems. Now the architects of this model must acknowledge that they were wrong."

The power generation troubles intensify a situation already at crisis-point for the electricity industry and consumers, who are just now coming to terms with record wholesale electricity prices throughout the country.

Prices are currently hovering around $1 per kilowatt-hour whereas, in normal circumstances, they are around 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

There are reports that some businesses are shutting down export production and one supermarket owner is having to borrow money to pay for higher electricity prices.

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