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Electricity Update PDF Print E-mail

All Ashburton’s electricity consumers now have their power restored , but three weeks after the biggest dump of snow in years Electricity Ashburton’s network is in a fragile state.

General manager Gordon Guthrie said the mop-up would take months — his biggest fear now was nor’ west winds in the spring bring down lines that were not properly tensioned and were.

A lot of repairs made to date were temporary only, for instance, he was aware of one line that was stayed back to a farmer’s heavy roller. A lot of maintenance such as retensioning remained to be done.

In the urban areas, undergrounding work carried out in recent years had been a godsend, he said. All Methven’s reticulation had been undergrounded following a big storm in 1973 and there had been no problems there. Much of Ashburton’s network had also been done. Electricity Ashburton was spending $1m a year continuing the project and was on target to complete the whole town within 10 years. There were also plans to underground wiring in Rakaia.

The rate of conversion to an underground urban network had slowed somewhat in the last couple of years because crews had been busy working on new substations that were necessary to give greater security to the whole network.

Upgrading of the rural network in recent years had largely been driven by the demand created by irrigation, Mr Guthrie said, but that did not mean maintenance had been neglected in other areas. Newer lines had understandably stood up better in the snow, but some of them had fallen too. The main problem had been wires failing at joins and fittings. Once a line failed the whiplash effect twisted poles, breaking crossarms or the tops of poles. If a stay gave way there was often a domino effect, causing whole rows of poles to come down.

It was not economic to underground the total network at this stage because of the cost of the high voltage cables involved, but it was something that was coming closer. Low voltage lines were worth undergrounding but high voltage were marginal.


Private property

Lines on private property were a different issue, he said. Power would have been on to all properties much earlier if on-property lines had been underground, and that was something that would be looked at.

Householders had always been responsible for the costs of maintaining lines on their own properties, but government legislation in the mid-1980s clarified the question of ownership, placing it with the property owner.

Issues and options regarding ownership and maintenance of lines on private property were something that would be looked at in the review process that was about to begin, he said. Some properties had only low voltage lines, others had both high and low voltage.

There was no excuse nowadays to still have low voltage overhead lines in farmyards as it was quite economic to underground them.

Electricity Ashburton had asked NIWA for a report on the scale of snowstorms in recent years and an indication if they were increasing in frequency and severity. The review process would look at what additional measures needed to be taken to protect the network against likely future storms.

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