12 Feb 2009

$50m upgrade of power network fast-tracked

6:52 pm on 12 February 2009

Transpower has announced a $50 million upgrade of the national transmission grid, but almost none of the money will be spent in Auckland, despite recent crippling power outages.

About 74,000 customers in the city's eastern suburbs lost power last week after a transformer outage at the Penrose sub-station. An unrelated fault at an Otahuhu sub-station caused further problems.

Transpower admits the Auckland network is stretched and on Thursday apologised to Auckland City Council for the blackouts.

The national grid upgrade will bring forward maintenance work that had been planned to take place over the next decade.

Contracts will be offered as early as April.

Transpower chief executive Patrick Strange says while the upgrade is not a major new project, it is important work.

Dr Strange says the $50 million of work will be mostly carried out in the regions and involves very high use of New Zealand labour and materials.

"We say it's a drop in the bucket but still (it's) a lot of money and work that will have to be done," he says.

"In doing it as one hit we get all the efficiencies of mobilising once, dealing with the landowners once, and also being able to do it at a time of year which suits them."

He says the maintenance programme is separate from Transpower's $3.8 billion plans for reinforcement of the grid.

The move has been welcomed by Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee who says it will provide valuable work for contractors and employers during the economic slowdown.

Commission to rethink Auckland decision

The Electricity Commission says it will reconsider its preliminary decision not support the shoring up of a vital power line in Auckland.

The commission rejected the project in December.

Transpower says the power line shores up the electricity supply to the north of Auckland.

The line includes a link from Pakuranga to Penrose, an underground wire to central Auckland, and a section under the Harbour Bridge which continues north to Albany.

Electricity Commission chairman David Caygill told Checkpoint on Thursday it is reviewing the initial decision on the project.

Mr Caygill says a public hearing is set down for 2 March.