US$3.5 million and two months to restore Ha'apai's power
Tonga Power Limited says it is working hard to restore power to 1,000 homes following Cyclone Ian but is also looking to make its network more storm resistant in the long-term.
Tonga Power Limited says rebuilding its Ha'apai network to one that is more cyclone resistant will cost about 3.5 million US dollars and could take up to two months.
Its chief executive, John van Brink, says about 90 percent of the network was extensively damaged during Cyclone Ian, which struck Tonga's northern islands of Ha'apai almost two weeks ago.
He says so far about 100 homes and businesses in Ha'apai's main town of Pangai have been reconnected, and that number is growing every day.
Mr van Brink told Mary Baines that in restoring and rebuilding the network, the company must weigh up the long and short term electricity needs of Ha'apai.
JOHN VANK BRINK: We have around 1,000 connections on the two islands where we have our grid. And of those 1,000 connections I would guess that about 500 homes have been badly damaged or completely gone or destroyed. So we're actually rebuilding our network and probably connecting about half of them. So, so far we're certainly progressing through Pangai, the capital of the Ha'apai group, and as of yesterday had 100 or so connections made, yep.
MARY BAINES: How long will it take to restore it all would you say?
JVB: It partly depends on the condition of these damaged homes and the rebuild programme around that. So the restoration project we currently have has started. We will see our high voltage network, which is the backbone that runs right across the two islands in a causeway between them, completed hopefully by the end of next week. And in that high voltage network we're going to have the low voltage supply which goes past all the houses and down the side streets completed by, again, hopefully a month from now maybe two months from now. Partly it depends as I said on the ability to clear all the trees and line of debris away from the smaller side streets and access roads.
MB: So at this stage is it about fixing the power situation or as well looking into the long-term?
JVB: Yeah, we certainly have an eye on how we can actually balance the urgency of getting supply back, which obviously tends to point us towards putting back what we had in place and using the assets that were there as much as possible like the old reclaimed conductors. And balancing that against the ability to use this time where we've got to basically replace 90 percent of our network, to rebuild it in a more resilient manner. We're going down the latter path. We're looking at things like putting in better poles, better wires, different design, which is more like what you'd see in a place like New Zealand and Australia, with bundled conductors. And hopefully underground connections from the roadside into the houses which don't get affected by trees and roofing iron when it flies around.
MB: Do you know how much this is actually all going to cost you?
JVB: If we end up rebuilding the way we want to do, we're looking at probably about 4 million dollars New Zealand. And that covers 1,000 homes - so it's quite an expensive cost for a relatively small customer base.
MB: And you must be pretty pleased with the 1.4 million that New Zealand has announced it's going to put towards the power situation there.
JVB: We have been touched and exceptionally grateful for the support we've got from the New Zealand High Commission here and the government of New Zealand. The funding support will definitely help us. One of the issues that we've got is that the connections from our network into the houses, which in every case has to be completely rebuilt, as I say we hope to do underground. Those actually aren't owned by Tonga Power they're actually the customers responsibility, but there's no way the customer is going to be able to put those in. So with the funding we've got from the New Zealand government we are going to be able to actually spend extra money and put those new connections in for the people, you know, and get supply back on much quicker. It's been really appreciated.
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