Grid boss warns of blackouts 04 February 2005


National grid boss Ralph Craven is predicting blackouts if the $500 million upgrading of transmission lines into Auckland is thwarted.

The warning comes as Transpower, which runs the grid, meets more aggression from landowners reluctant to give its workers access to carry out maintenance on transmission lines on private properties.

Transpower plans to complete the $500 million project by 2010 and will have selected its preferred route through hundreds of properties by June, it told Parliament’s commerce select committee yesterday.

The resource management challenges are huge as the new big transmission line runs through hundreds of properties and the territories of nine local and regional authorities. It will run from Whakamaru in the central North Island to Otahuhu in south Auckland.

In July Transpower will start negotiating compensation with landowners on its preferred route.

If the project did not get the green light, Mr Craven raised the spectre of blackouts at peak times – winter afternoons between 5pm and 7pm. At that time demand in the Auckland area would have to drop by 60 megawatts – the amount used by a town the size of Wanganui, he said.

“Just imagine having to switch off Wanganui for an hour or so.” And every year the size and frequency of the blackouts would increase by about 60 megawatts, he said.

Short-term spending in parts of the grid were buying five to eight years of time before the big upgrades were needed.

Transpower had three big projects planned to be completed by 2012 – the $500 million Auckland project, a $500 million project to upgrade the line into Christchurch, and a $400 million upgrading of the Cook Strait link.

Dr Craven indicated property owners were suspicious of Transpower when it wanted access for maintenance.

“The common thing about the complaints in the last little while is they are steered towards: `Why do you want to come on our property right now? What are you actually doing? Are you surveying or are you doing maintenance? Why should we let you on?’.”

Transpower had not had to force entry to property for maintenance till recently, Dr Craven said.

“In the last 12 months, we are now getting the situation where landowners won’t let us on to the property and we’ve had one occasion where we have had to force entry.”

One of the select committee members said property owners were worried about the property easements Transpower was seeking, which would stop owners from building under or near transmission lines.

Transpower chairman David Gascoigne said property owners would be compensated. Transpower’s investment in the national interest had to be balanced against individual property rights.

Transpower expected to lodge notices for designation of land with nine local authorities on the preferred route late this year or early next year and expected the resource consent process to take 18 months to two years.

Dr Craven assured the committee the Cook Strait link would be working by the end of March.

One of the three cables has failed and the reason is not known. The cables carry power from South Island hydro plants to the North Island and are needed most in the winter.

He said transmission in the upper South Island should be in a better state this winter than last, with recent investments made in plant.

Last year Transpower and electricity industry players developed emergency plans to turn off hot water systems and some industrial customers because of concerns transmission lines in the top half of the South Island could not cope at peak times.