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'Third-world stuff': Crisis meeting held ahead of grid emergency as polar blast bears down

Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 May 2024, 2:10pm

'Third-world stuff': Crisis meeting held ahead of grid emergency as polar blast bears down

Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 May 2024, 2:10pm

A second crisis meeting has been held this afternoon ahead of a grid emergency which could see power cut to homes on the coldest day of the year tomorrow morning.

Electricity grid operator Transpower issued a warning notice earlier today saying there was “insufficient generation... to meet demand” between 7am and 9am on Friday.

After an emergency meeting this afternoon, attended by Minister of Energy Simeon Brown and industry heads, a Transpower spokesman confirmed the grid operator had managed to “squeeze out” some additional generation capacity for tomorrow.

However, it would not be enough to avert potential outages during a polar blast, when temperatures are tipped to plunge and demand is expected to peak.

After the meeting, Brown told the Herald he was also urging New Zealanders to conserve electricity.

He said Transpower had conveyed how the market had reacted to the warning notice.

“The generation balance remains tight, and I continue to urge Kiwis to conserve electricity tomorrow morning,” he said.

Meanwhile, Government minister and Act Party leader David Seymour has called the necessity for people to conserve energy and the potential grid crisis “third-world stuff”.

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

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.

Key members of the energy industry held an emergency meeting this morning, a spokesman for Transpower told the Herald.

Another emergency meeting was to be held this afternoon to try to secure enough electricity to cope with demand, he said.

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

Transpower’s notice outlined the consequences of not having enough electricity: “The system operator may need to manage demand.”

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

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

‘Concerning to find out there may not be enough power’

The country’s consumer watchdog, Consumer NZ, said it was concerning there may not be enough electricity generation to meet demand.

“We would urge people not to go without the essentials that they need to stay warm and healthy, but to heed the advice relating to turning lights off in a room you’re exiting and holding off charging your devices during the peak time if you can,” a spokeswoman said.

“We think it’s important that people have advance warning of this and in particular when the crunch points will be, so they organise to change their habits, to extent that they’re able to.”

Energy Minister blames previous Government

Energy Minister Simeon Brown blamed the former Government for tomorrow’s shortage of power, 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.

“The Government is focused on restoring confidence in our energy market by stopping projects such as Lake Onslow, which was having a chilling impact on new generation, and repealing the ban on oil and gas so that the country can have the energy needed to firm the electricity grid as we develop an increasingly renewable electricity system.

“I am meeting with Transpower this afternoon to discuss this situation.”

‘Timely reminder to tackle the problem’ - Consumer Advocacy Council

The Consumer Advocacy Council (CAC) said Transpower’s warning was a “timely reminder for the industry and regulators to tackle the problem or 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,” Hart said.

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

Hart said the CAC was pleased Transpower had warned people about the grid issues early.

“Doing this 24 hours out from any projected shortage of supply is sensible ‐ it does give the industry time to react and head off the worst possible result - power having to be cut to consumers,” she said.

”Consumers too can do their bit to ease pressure on the system, but ultimately it is the industry that needs to take the lead at these times of pressure.”

Coldest morning of 2024 so far to be even colder tomorrow

Today is New Zealand’s coldest day of 2024 so far - and more frosty temperatures are due tonight and into the weekend.

Kiwis woke to frosts, snow and bone-chilling winds this morning - but with it came dry, fine and sunny conditions for most.

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

MetService issued road snowfall warnings for four mountain passes in the South Island yesterday, with up to 5cm of snow expected to settle overnight last night.

Temperatures in Auckland were forecast to drop to 3C overnight tonight and to fall to 5C on Friday night. Throughout today, the daily high could hit 17C with fine conditions and cool, southerly winds.

Frosts were also likely on Friday morning. MetService attributed the cooler temperatures to a string of cold fronts sweeping the country with brisk southerly winds.

MetService meteorologist John Law said it was possible Auckland could get frosts, and explained that clear night skies and cold winds created “perfect conditions” for cooler-than-average temperatures.

Porters Pass (SH73) has had a light dusting of snow. Photo / George Heard
Porters Pass (SH73) has had a light dusting of snow. Photo / George Heard

Thursday morning was the coldest of 2024 so far, Niwa said.

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.

Looking ahead to the weekend, the City of Sails could dip to 5C on Saturday night with a 7C overnight low forecast for Sunday. Saturday’s high was tipped at 15C while Sunday should reach 16C. Both days should see sunny skies and fresh southerlies.

Speaking of chilly conditions around the North Island, Law said: “If you’re in Hawke’s Bay tomorrow and you look out at the hills to the west of you, you may see a dusting of snow.”

It comes after Taumarunui started Wednesday at -4C. Taupō began the day at -2C. Further south, Christchurch woke to -3C, Timaru started at -2C and Queenstown saw -1C.

Niwa said this was a “fast start to the snowy season” and Friday would be “a very cold day for the time of year”.

Snow in Porters Pass today. Photo / George Heard
Snow in Porters Pass today. Photo / George Heard

Some of the winds likely to buffet the country overnight tonight could reach 80km/h in exposed places around Westland, in the South Island. Gales were also possible around Wellington and Marlborough tomorrow morning.

Lewis Pass, State Highway 7, Arthur’s Pass, SH73, and Porters Pass were under road snowfall warnings from 7pm on Wednesday at the earliest to 3am on Thursday at the latest.

Flurries on the Crown Range Rd were recorded at 4pm on Wednesday - prompting a warning from MetService to motorists to “drive safe and take care on the wet roads and poor visibility”.

MetService meteorologist Mmathapelo Makgabutlane said this May was a stark contrast with May last year.

“Many may recall the tropical-feeling temperatures of May 2023, where places like Auckland and Hamilton experienced record-breaking warm nights. However, this year, expect an overnight drop to mid-single digits in Auckland City and early morning temperatures hovering near freezing in Hamilton,” Makgabutlane said.

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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