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Major Electricity Supply Risks Still Present In AK

Max Bowden 's BusinessSense:
Major Electricity Supply Risks Still Present In Auckland

NZ’s creaking infrastructure and our attitude to health and safety was cruelly exposed last month when a forklift in Auckland hit a high voltage power line. The driver was lucky to escape with his life. Thousands of homes and businesses were without power as a result.

It has been described as “an accident waiting to happen” yet no-one has stepped up and really taken responsibility for this situation. This was a massive risk, the management of which was simply handed to shop floor level employees.

This is a situation which should never have been allowed to develop, especially in a world supposedly as safety conscious as ours, and someone must carry the can.

NZ Energy & Environment Business Week www.nzenergy-environment.co.nz takes a hard stance on this issue in this “no punches pulled” article.


“Electricity Supply Risks: Auckland Power Outage Should Never Have Happened

The complacent state of NZ's approach to health and safety is on full display in the case of the national grid outage which left a chunk of Auckland all parts north without electricity last Thursday. This is the situation:

In past submissions to the Electricity Commission hearings on the North Auckland and Northland transmission upgrade a completely human-induced risk was identified at the site where the outage occurred, this risk was said to be “managed,” but at worst it could have been fatal. The upgrade is now going ahead, costing around $475m and is cited widely as "the answer" to the type of grid weaknesses exposed last week.

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This weakness involved Transpower's high voltage lines drooping through the Metroport shipping container handling yard in South Auckland at a height lower than the height containers are stacked there. Forklift drivers were instructed to operate parallel to the lines, but in the end, it looks like an accident waiting to happen.

Transpower is treating the issue as just another example of the problems created by "underbuild" on the grid, a risk that will be avoided when the NAaN project is in place because Transpower is buying a land corridor which will allow no underbuilding.

Transpower CEO Patrick Strange told NZ Energy & Environment Business Week since the Metroport risk was known "in some ways, it probably should have been one of the lower risks."

Transpower’s Kieran Devine says the Metroport site risk was among the most significant raised in hearings on the NAaN proposal, but that the risk was being managed.

Strange says there are similar sites "all over the country" where Transpower's high voltage lines are overlapping the operational space used by underbuilt businesses. On top of this, home and industrial fires, vehicle accidents, and various kinds of vandalism all represent constant threats to the grid which are inherently difficult to manage.

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NEW ZEALAND ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT BUSINESS WEEK Powerful and up-to-date, it covers Emissions Trading Scheme, Climate Change & Carbon Trading, the Resource Management Act, the Kyoto Protocol, Energy Supply Security, Electricity Generation, Renewable Energy, Oil & Gas Exploration, Energy Efficiency, Water Management, Sustainability. Covers policy announcements, draft legislation, amendments to Acts and regulations. Also includes NZ Energy & Environment Weekly Digest. Published every Tuesday. 46 issues per year. http://nzenergy-environment.co.nz/home/special-introductory-offer

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While Transpower consistently opposes underbuilding in resource consent hearings, land use regulation rests with local governments and is out of the national grid operator's control, says Strange.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee was among those quick to blame the EC for failing to approve the NAaN upgrade earlier, but NZ Energy & Environment Business Week says the risk which took out homes and businesses, including the Marsden Point oil refinery, didn't need a $475m upgrade to fix. Here was an example of a cluster of risks both life-threatening and capable of causing social and economic disruption on a grand scale, yet these catastrophic risks were managed in such a way as to leave open huge potential for human error by making forklift operators responsible for never hitting the wires. At this stage, the Dept of Labour confirms it is " is making inquiries to identify what follow up action is appropriate."

Straight-talking as always, Strange is irritated at suggestions there was anything special about the Metroport site, and says the fact another part of the grid was out of action for maintenance at the time was also probably irrelevant.

An accident of this magnitude could have been expected to knock out the other grid circuit running through central Auckland. It would definitely have taken out Genesis's proposed gas-fired plant at Rodney, as even the Ngawha geothermal station in the Far North tripped because of the extreme voltages created by the collision of container, forklift and the 220Kv line.

We say this accident, with its enormous social and economic cost, let alone the potential for loss of life, should have been far better handled.

Just who is responsible is not clear - Auckland local Govt? Transpower? Metroport? The Port of Tauranga? Govt safety regulators? And this may be the problem. Everyone seems to see this as either someone else's issue, just one of those things, or something which will only be fixed when a new cable is in place.

Yet what it really needs is some commonsense when it comes to operating in the same space as high voltage power lines. It beggars belief this could ever be regarded as safe practice in the health and safety-conscious environment which constantly warns stairs are slippery and jugs can be hot.

Until the penny drops there is a real health and safety issue at the heart of this, it must only be a matter of time before something similar happens again, and maybe next time someone will die.”

This is a matter for all people in business. It is everyone’s job to make sure work places are as safe as they can possibly be.

NZ has a “she’ll be right” attitude which can be very dangerous in circumstances such as those outlined in the NZ Energy & Environment Business Week article above.

The blame game is being played. What needs to happen is the problem needs to be fixed. Those who are responsible for managing these risks need to exercise their power over the power.


Max Bowden
Publisher In Chief
The Main Report Group

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