Our customers are important to us and we want to be transparent about our plans. With the recent cold weather across our region, our customers are rightly asking why we are continuing to undertake planned work across our electricity network, and asking us also to explain how we make decisions on what jobs will and won’t proceed.
In the past, Aurora Energy was criticised for not investing in the network in a timely manner. The new team at Aurora Energy was established in 2018 and made a commitment to put the investment back on track, to ensure the electricity network was brought back to a fit state of health and can support future growth across the region. Our work plans and priorities have all been (publicly) reviewed by independent experts and our investment plan has been approved by our industry regulator, the Commerce Commission. Much of our work is necessary to replace or maintain equipment across our network, and it’s also necessary to ensure we have the capacity to support the future needs of our customers as we shift to increased electrification.
Most people agree that the work is necessary and time critical. The size of our work programme is such that we can’t defer work to only the summer months. We need to strike a balance between completing the work as efficiently and cost effectively as possible, whilst minimising the impact of supply interruptions to our customers – particularly during the colder months.
To the extent practicable, at the planning stage, every job is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to assess whether the work can be completed without impacting customers, whether we can bundle the work with other jobs to minimise the need for repeat interruptions, and whether a proposed timing conflicts with local community events, or specific business activities. The length of any planned interruption is also carefully considered with safety in mind, and we will not rush our contracting teams as they undertake high risk work, often in trying conditions. Planned work is notified to customers at least 10 days in advance via their electricity retailer (who they pay their bill to).
At this time of year we review planned work more closely, and particularly in the days leading up to the work when weather forecasts are more reliable. We will cancel and reschedule planned (and notified) outages if the weather is very bad and the work can be safely deferred. We try to ensure that we update our website and Facebook page as soon as any such decision has been made. This has to be a judgement call made by the Aurora Energy team closer to the time of scheduled work, and we reiterate that with the amount of work we need to complete across our electricity network in Central Otago/Wanaka, Queenstown Lakes and Dunedin, we simply cannot defer all our planned work during winter months. Every cancelled job has a cost - the work needs to be rescheduled and cancellation inevitably pushes out other work, which has a knock-on effect for the following winter as well as our work programme more generally. As an example, we chose to proceed with a planned outage in Alexandra today because the weather conditions were warmer than the last few days and it was safe for our contractors to proceed with replacing poles that are at their end of life.
We often get asked why we don’t provide back-up generation when power is interrupted. Like most other electricity network companies, Aurora Energy has a generation policy in place to support schools, early childcare, healthcare, elderly care facilities and veterinary clinics. We communicate well in advance of planned outages with customers who are dependent on electricity for medical reasons, and all medically dependent customers should be registered with their electricity retailer so their retailer can get in touch prior to any planned outages.
Aurora Energy provides information on planned and unplanned outages on our website: Outages. At the moment, we rely on a semi-manual process to update information on our website but later this year we will commission a new outage management system that will provide customers with more detailed and up-to-date information on the status of their electricity supply. We also have a 24/7 call centre if customers need more information, and we provide community updates throughout the year on the important work happening to improve our network services.
We know it’s frustrating when any essential service is not available whenever we need it and that’s certainly the case for supplying electricity during the winter months. The team at Aurora Energy knows this and we work hard every day to deliver the work on behalf of our customers and make the right decisions. We’ve heard from customers that good communication about both planned and unplanned power outages is important, and we are continuing to work on how we can do this better.