‘Perfect storm’ conspires to cut power and test the Mackenzie.
It’s been dubbed the perfect storm – a trifecta of floods, snowstorms and devastating winds.
And as Mother Nature hammered the Tekapo, Albury and Fairlie areas for the third time in as many weeks, the Mackenzie District Council and lines company Alpine Energy are praising residents for their fortitude and co-operation in the frequent power outages that naturally accompany such events.
About 1000 customers, including the whole of Fairlie township, lost electricity again this week after gales topping more than 120kph brought trees down over power lines and sent debris hurtling through the air to wrap itself around lines, tripping safety circuits.
For Alpine Energy and its lines maintenance company NETcon, the Mackenzie area has been the epicentre of a concerted effort to restore power. Well equipped and trained lines maintenance teams matched tough conditions with a tough response.
First came flooding, which carried an ominous consequence, one not immediately apparent. Softening ground under trees and power poles set the stage for power outages caused by toppling trees and poles. They might not have toppled were it not for a record dumping of snow, and later winds, putting pressure on already weakened tree roots.
Alpine’s response to the snow-caused power outages was swift and effective. Teams numbering up to 75 people, some from Network Waitaki, in a 30-strong fleet of 4WD vehicles covering the wide area of Geraldine, Fairlie, Tekapo, Burkes Pass and surrounding areas had essentially all power restored within about 60 hours. The speed of the response minimised losses to farms and businesses and ensured safety and comfort for the residents of the areas worst affected.
Then came the third blow.
Gales this week relentlessly tore through the same areas tripping lines such as the main Albury-to-Fairlie feed. A series of power outages had wearied faults teams back into the same areas.
NETcon’s distribution operations manager Richard Phimister was full of praise for his crews who had worked hard through weeks of rough weather.
“Our staff are always committed to finding faults and restoring power to the people in the shortest time possible.
“In the field we were fed good information from Alpine Energy controllers and with our teams of committed linesmen, the task of locating faults in difficult access conditions was minimised and managed, resulting in short repair times, Mr Phimister said.
Mackenzie District Mayor Claire Barlow said the “perfect storm” had been a trying time for the community and for the Council.
“The situation has been greatly improved by the responsiveness and communication from Alpine Energy and NETcon – in particular Andrew Tombs (chief executive of Alpine Energy) and Stephen Small (Alpine’s training and compliance manager).
“As a result of their on-going support we have been able to keep ratepayers informed of what is happening through our Facebook page and website, which, thanks to smartphones, can be accessed even when the power is out,” Mrs Barlow said.
“Once people have the info they distribute it to their friends and family and a great little network system is evolving of keeping people informed.”
She said the weather events had been an excellent example of utilities and council collaborating for the benefit of the residents.
“The public are a great deal more understanding when they know what is going on and it is most definitely appreciated.
“I congratulate them on a sterling effort under considerable pressure,” Mrs Barlow said.
Mr Tombs also thanked affected residents for their co-operation during the repair effort that saw power rapidly restored.
“Our response was swift and effective and for that I would also like to thank our hard-working and dedicated staff,” Mr Tombs said.
“Power is set to trip for no other reason than to keep everyone safe when foreign objects strike the network. But consumers should always treat all lines as live at all times and contact Alpine Energy at 0800 66 11 77 if they have information useful to our crews,” Mr Tombs said.