Tower collapse puts pressure on NZ industries

Thermal generators, notably Contact Energy and Genesis Power, are running their gas-fired power plants hard to help industries struggling while the Cook Strait DC power link between the South and North Islands remains out of action.

Contact spokesman Pattrick Smellie told EnergyReview.Net from Wellington today that Contact was running its New Plymouth, Stratford (the Taranaki Combined Cycle plant) and Auckland gas-fired stations as hard as possible, given that the 365MW Otahuhu B station at Auckland was out for scheduled maintenance.

Similarly, Genesis spokeswoman Carolyn Vavasour told ERN from Auckland that Genesis was running its dual-fired gas-coal Huntly station as hard as it could within existing resource consent conditions relating to temperature constraints regarding the station's discharges into the Waikato River. As well, one of four 250MW units at Huntly was out for scheduled maintenance.

However, the small Genesis co-generation plants at Te Awamutu and Kinleith were operating well for diary giant Fonterra and Carter Holt Harvey respectively.

Media reports indicate several manufacturers, especially in forestry, may have to stay shut down for the next few days while the DC link remains out of action after high winds, of up to 160km/h, blew down three transmission towers in the Hanmer area of the South Island early on Friday.

Spot electricity prices have since soared, from about $NZ60 to $NZ900 per megawatt hour, as North Island generators have cranked their thermal stations to compensate for there being no South Island hydroelectricity because of the absence of the DC link.

As a result some major industries without sufficient price hedging have shut or drastically cut production. Methanex methanol production was not affected, however, said company spokeswoman Gerry Kennedy.

Major Electricity Users Group chairman Terrence Currie is reported as saying all industrial users should closely monitor their manufacturing patterns in light of the widely fluctuating spot power prices and that he hopes generators aren't profiteering from the freak accident.

National grid operator Transpower says the DC link may be out for at least five days while temporary replacement towers are built and installed. However, it is also making assurances that the North Island should not suffer serious electricity shortages.

Transpower spokesman Chris Roberts is reported as saying a 30-strong workforce is at Hanmer, though contractors have struggled to reach the site and to bring in excavators, bulldozers, cranes and replacement equipment. The damaged towers and wires will be removed before temporary towers are brought in from Christchurch and erected.

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