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'Third-world stuff': Energy minister praises chilly Kiwis' restraint amid grid crisis

Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Fri, 10 May 2024, 7:07am

'Third-world stuff': Energy minister praises chilly Kiwis' restraint amid grid crisis

Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Fri, 10 May 2024, 7:07am

The threat of rolling power outages due to a nationwide grid emergency has passed as temperatures plunge to record lows on the coldest day of the year. 

Power cuts were averted with Kiwis cutting back on electricity use this morning, despite some parts of the country experiencing sub-zero temperatures. 

Energy Minister Simeon Brown praised consumers for their restraint to avoid feared cuts. 

Christchurch, Twizel and Mt Cook Airport were the coldest spots in the country this morning, dropping to a bone-chilling -6.4C around 5.30am, according to MetService. 

Alexandra wasn’t far behind at -5C, while Taumarunui was the coldest town in the North Island at -4.6C. Palmerston North was at -3C, Masterton at -2C, Levin, Taupo and Paraparaumu were all around -1.5C and Hamilton was at -1C. 

Auckland got down to 4.1C this morning, but chilly winds in the city meant it felt like 2C, according to MetService. 

Commuters walking through Christchurch's Hagley Park had a chilly start today with temperatures below zero. Photo / George HeardCommuters walking through Christchurch's Hagley Park had a chilly start today with temperatures below zero. Photo / George Heard 

MetService said a few of its weather stations broke record-low May temperatures in the unseasonal cold snap. 

“Christchurch Airport was just .1°C from their May record with data back to 1954! Our station at St Arnaud got down to -8.3°C,” said the forecaster. 

Despite the icy temperatures, households have been told to conserve electricity and not use their heaters as much to prevent overloading the country’s power grid as energy demand outstrips supply.   

The country’s grid operator Transpower issued a warning notice in advance, saying it did not have enough generation offers to meet demand between 7am and 9am Friday. 

People have been asked not to use heaters or lights in rooms they were not using, not to charge electronic devices and vehicles and to delay using washing machines, clothes dryers and dishwashers. 

The Minister of Energy has also urged New Zealanders to conserve electricity this morning. Meanwhile, Government minister and Act Party leader David Seymour has called the potential cuts “Third World stuff”. 

An ‘abundance of prudence’ 

Contact Energy boss Mike Hughes says Transpower is being “prudent” in warning about possible power cuts this morning. 

He told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning that Transpower liked to have a spare 200-250 megawatts of “residual generation” for the country. 

“When they start to get within that zone, as a matter of prudence they say, ‘Look we need to do a bit more to make sure they maintain that gap’,” he said. 

“So Transpower’s warnings are very much out of an abundance of prudence, to stimulate generators to bring all the generation they can bring to bear.” 

Investments were being made to increase power-generating capacity, he said. That included the new Tauhara geothermal power station which would add 160-170 megawatts. 

“But the cold has come a bit earlier, and the project is running a bit late.” 

Gas supplies down, Govt warned of wintertime crunch in Feb 

The Consumer Advocacy Council (CAC) said Transpower’s warning was a “timely reminder for the industry and regulators to tackle the problem of securing reliable, year-round renewable energy supply”. 

CAC chairwoman Deborah Hart said: “It’s disappointing this has happened so early in the winter, but it’s a timely wake-up call for the industry. 

“We have a long-term challenge in New Zealand to manage winter peak demands as our population grows and the country electrifies. 

“The council’s view is that fundamental change is needed to the wholesale market - there must be sufficient renewable energy available all year round.” 


Energy Minister blames previous Government 

Minister of Energy Simeon Brown blamed the former Government for this morning’s power shortage, laying the problem at the feet of the oil and gas ban. 

Brown brought a chart to the House, showing the number of Transpower notices warning of generation shortages increased under the last Government. 

“Unfortunately, the Government has inherited an increasingly insecure electricity market following the last Government’s decision to ban oil and gas exploration,” Brown said. 

Minister of Energy Simeon Brown during Question Time in Parliament, Wellington, March 5, 2024. Photo / Mark Mitchell.Minister of Energy Simeon Brown during Question Time in Parliament, Wellington, March 5, 2024. Photo / Mark Mitchell. 

Coldest morning of the year 

Yesterday morning was the coldest day of the year so far - and more frosty temperatures were expected today, with a likelihood this morning would be even colder. 

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) said the country was in the middle of a “winter-like surge”. 

Temperatures in Auckland were forecast to drop to 3C overnight last night and to fall to 5C on Friday night. Frosts were possible around the city, MetService said. 

However the Far North and the far South have escaped the coldest weather. Invercargill and Dunedin were both relatively balmy at 5.30am, sitting at around 10C, according to MetService. 

MetService meteorologist Paul Ngamanu said a front had been moving through Invercargill, warming the city up after it dropped to a low of 7C just after midnight. 

He said it was likely the front had stirred the air up, causing the warmer temperatures. 

“What causes these cold temperatures is calm conditions and clear skies. That front has moved onto the far South and brought cloudy conditions [including for Invercargill] a 15-knot westerly, mixing the air up.” 

The warmest part of the country was the Far North this morning, with the Hokianga getting to 13C around 5.30am and Cape Reinga at 11C. 

Severe frosts, which MetService said happened when air temperatures dropped below -3C, were expected for much of Canterbury and the Central Plateau. 

Yesterday saw subzero temperatures around the country: Lake Tekapo dropped to -7.5C. Middlemarch fell to -6.5C, Cass to -6.1C, Ranfurly to -5.6C and Lauder to -5.3C. In the North Island, South Waiōuru fell to -4.8C and the Desert Rd hit -4.4C. 

‘Every little bit counts’: Transpower urges restraint 

Transpower hosted two crisis meetings on the situation yesterday. 

In a meeting at 3.30pm, attended by the Minister of Energy and other industry heads, a Transpower spokesman confirmed the grid operator had managed to “squeeze out” some additional generation capacity for today. 

However, the extra generation would not be enough to avert potential outages this morning, the spokesman said. 

“We’ve been talking to [the energy] industry, trying to get them to do more [power] generation,” he said. 

In its warning notice, Transpower said: “It is forecast to be a very cold morning, and people should stay warm by heating rooms they are using and continuing to keep them warm. However, they could consider turning down the temperature slightly between 7am and 9am (by 1-2 degrees).” 

Hot water cylinders in people’s homes would be switched off by line companies if necessary. 

People reliant on electricity for medical reasons have been told to have a backup plan and to call 111 in an emergency. 

Transpower said major industrial electricity consumers have also been asked to reduce their electricity usage. 

Major users like Tiwai smelter, Glenbrook Steel Mill ‘doing their part’ 

Major electricity users like the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter, Fonterra, the Glenbrook Steel Mill, the Macraes Gold Mine in Otago, and Amazon Web Services’ data centre have been encouraged to reduce their electricity usage if possible. 

The group representing these customers, the Major Electricity Users’ Group (MEUG), told the Herald it had spoken to its members and was confident “they … are doing their part as well”. 

“For customers, anything [work] they don’t need to do or any outages that they had planned, perhaps they could bring that forward [to between 7am and 9am],” MEUG executive director Karen Boyes said. 

She also warned customers in the spot power price market would be hit hard. 

“I told [members] it could cause potentially very high prices, and some of our members may choose to adjust production if they can.” 

Boyes said the notice from Transpower was well in advance, which she said MEUG members would appreciate as they often took a long time to alter production and reduce power use. 

Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022. 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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