‘Things are running tight this morning’ – Transpower boss’ warning to Kiwis

Transpower says New Zealanders were close to another power crisis this morning after tens of thousands of Kiwis were plunged into darkness last night.

And general manager of operations Dr Stephen Jay told the Herald he couldn’t rule out any further disruption to the network, stating “the emergency is far from over”.

“Things are running tight. Supplies have been running to the wire this morning.”

Last night’s outages affected parts of Wellington, Kāpiti Coast, Taupō, Hamilton, Napier, Hastings, Auckland and Whangārei.

None were warned that they would be without power, on a night which saw many cities head towards, or below, zero degrees.

National Party leader Judith Collins likened the outage to that which happened in a third world country.

“We do not live in a third world country.

“It was one of the coldest nights of the year last night and many families couldn’t keep warm.

“We should always expect that it will be colder in winter and we’ll need to use more energy, but the Government has failed New Zealanders by not being prepared.

“The Government has to be able to keep the lights on. This useless lot have failed to do that. “

Many people took to social media to vent their frustration with many asking how this could happen in this day and age.

Energy Minister Megan Woods was this morning in urgent talks with Transpower and the Electricity Authority.

Woods will speak to media just before 10am, which is when the Prime Minister will also speak.

But National and Act MPs have put some of the blame of the power cut on the government, saying its moves to cut gas production had a part to play.

Act’s energy spokesman Simon Court said the government had neglected to tend to a key issue: energy security. That had put families in the cold, and endangered those with medical conditions.

“The focus should be on security of supply and affordable electricity, not banning certain fuels.”

Jay said Transpower gave more than 24 hours’ notice to power distribution companies that supplies were at a critical level.

The first warning was given 4.40pm on Monday before another warning was given at 1.02pm yesterday.

A final “Grid Emergency Notice” was then issued at 5.10pm stating that power would be out from 6pm until 7pm.

However, in many areas the outage lasted until at least 9pm. Some providers weren’t expected to turn that power back on until closer to midnight.

When asked how New Zealand could be in the position to experience such a dire power cut, Jay said he didn’t know and that would be investigated today.

He described the outage as a “very rare event” however it had warned all 29 of its “distribution networks” that there could be an issue.

He was unsure if the power outage affected anyone who was reliant on power for medical emergencies.

While the national grid operator claimed there wasn’t enough electricity being generated to keep up with record demand created by cold temperatures, some providers said they had plenty.

But Flick Electric and Energy Collective chief executive Luke Blincoe told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB it was unclear whether rolling black-outs were really needed, on one of the coldest nights of the year.

He said generation doesn’t appear to have been at capacity, as several units weren’t running at the time.

Power was restored to most homes by 9pm.

North Island electricity company Powerco said its controlled hot-water systems across its network had been switched off to reduce network load and would be progressively switched back on overnight.

Vector said it used hot water control and battery installations to reduce the load on its network, as instructed by Transpower, and no customers were affected by outages.

However, freezing temperatures had put more pressure on power this morning.

MetService meteorologist Amy Rossiter said a southerly low-pressure weather system had resulted in temperatures dropping last night through to the early hours of today.

In Auckland, most parts of the city dropped to 5C at 9pm. The coldest area was in the south, in Ardmore, where the temperature got to 3.3C.

Anyone who lost power in Hamilton would have felt the cold winter bite, as the temperature in much of the city dropped to 0C by 10pm.

Early this morning, between 6am and 7am, the temperature was at its coldest, recording -3.7C.

And in Wellington, much of the city started feeling the cold early yesterday evening, as the temperature dropped to 5C in most parts by 5pm. At 6pm, the temperature was 2.6C in Lower Hutt.

Energy analyst Molly Melhuish this morning warned that surges in electricity demand were only going to become more common.

Melhuish told Newstalk ZB that cold snaps like the one that caused the surge in demand are becoming more common.

Power distribution companies, including WEL Networks, Powerco and Unison are being approached for comment.

A Powerco spokesperson said the outages affecting its network – Palmerston North, New Plymouth, Taranaki – were unplanned outages already affecting the network and were not connected to the Transpower advisory.

To deal with advisory, controlled hot water systems across Powerco’s electricity network areas were temporarily switched off to reduce the load on the network and to avoid disconnecting any customers.

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