We are investing $49 million of capital investment on the Queenstown Lakes network over the next five years, as part of Aurora Energy’s $563 million investment over five years to upgrade the electricity network in Otago. The work currently underway will improve electricity supply to Arrowtown, Dalefield and Coronet Peak, and in the process also increase the capacity for growth in this area.
We also have a regular maintenance programme that includes inspecting parts of our electricity network by helicopter and drone as well as visual inspections, to look for electricity assets that may need to be replaced before they cause an issue. This includes ongoing vegetation clearance in high risk fire zones, which are extensive in the Queenstown Lakes area. This is all part of our commitment to providing a safe and reliable electricity supply.
Like our customers, we also want a power supply we can rely on and we are working hard after past under-investment to upgrade our network. We got approval last year from the Commerce Commission for additional funding to do this, and as a result have been able to increase our work programme. We have a lot of work to do and this is well underway thanks to our hard working team of staff and contractors. We acknowledge that a work programme of this size takes time to deliver and the results will follow in due course.
In regard to the recent power cuts, one of the electricity lines that takes power from the grid exit point at Frankton (where Aurora Energy takes power from Transpower’s national grid to distribute it to our local network) has tripped three times recently: 22 June, 1 July and 6 July. This impacted the same 2324 customers in Dalefield, Arthurs Point and Arrowtown.
On all occasions there was an unusual fault and tripping. From time to time we get intermittent faults on different parts of the network that can be difficult to resolve, and this is an example of this. We started investigating why this happened after the first fault, including foot patrols of the lines, and are looking into this as a matter of urgency. Yesterday field crews undertook a more detailed visual inspection of the line and these patrols are continuing today. We want to give customers reassurance we are being proactive to find and fix the issue and we are working with the team at NZski to keep them informed.
Aurora Energy’s Chief Executive, Dr Richard Fletcher, has spoken with NZSki’s Chief Executive today, and we are in the process of setting up a meeting so we can share more details of the work we are doing to ensure a reliable electricity supply, as we appreciate that all tourism and hospitality businesses want their customers to have a positive experience while visiting the Queenstown area. We also want people who already live in the area to have electricity when they need it.
We are also working with Transpower to get data that will help with our investigation, and until we complete the investigation we are unable to speculate about what may have caused the faults. Until we find the cause and can repair it, there is a possibility it may happen again. If it does, we would like to reassure customers that we are able to restore power quickly. We are also looking at a temporary option to back feed part of Arrowtown so if there is another fault, fewer customers will be impacted and we will be able to restore power faster, minimising interruption.
We know that any power cut is inconvenient for customers, but even more so in the middle of winter with school holidays starting next week and the ski season underway, and many visitors from Australia already on holiday in the area. We are working hard to find out what caused the three faults, and solutions to ensure the problem is fixed. We are committed to keeping our communities and stakeholders informed, and will provide an update once we have completed our investigation, which we anticipate will be by the end of this week.
Aurora Energy is New Zealand’s seventh largest electricity network by customer connections, supplying electricity to over 92,000 homes, farms and businesses in Dunedin, Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes. Aurora Energy Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dunedin City Holdings Limited, owned by the Dunedin City Council.