Drought could plunge New Zealand into winter
Jun 11, 2008 - Power News
New Zealand's electric industry is bracing for possible
blackouts this winter as hydro-storage lake levels have
plummeted 55% below average, the lowest levels since the
country suffered its last power crisis in 1992.
The country is heading into a cold, still winter after
a significant summer drought on the North Island and low
rainfall on the South Island. The low hydro-lake levels
are compounded by numerous technical issues such as the
forced retirement of a 300-MW gas-fired New Plymouth plant
last year because of asbestos contamination and limited
transfer of energy across the high-voltage DC link between
Five major power companies and national grid operator Transpower
have set up a coalition, the Winter Power Group, to oversee
electric supplies this winter. The group has published a
web site to inform New Zealanders of developments and to
remind them to be prudent with their electricity use.
Fears of a winter crisis have driven power prices above
$235/MWh, prompting Contact Energy, owner of the mothballed
New Plymouth plant, to crank up a 100-MW unit there. The
Sunday Star-Times reported that Contact Energy's motives
to close down the plant in the first place were being questioned
and suggested that asbestos was "convenient excuse"
to take "unpopular action" and close the plant,
knowing that the closure would impact the market.
Contact said it had discovered asbestos at New Plymouth
plant while examining deteriorating insulation material
around turbines, boiler, and pipework last September. The
company announced the plant, which had provided only reserve
capacity for some time, would be decommissioned in December.
Meanwhile the New Zealand government, which is in the
process of enabling a moratorium on thermal generation to
combat climate change, was being accused of ignoring the
power crisis, because this year is an election year. It
was being accused of celebrating the partial recommissioning
of a thermal power plant instead of launching a power-saving
campaign, The New Zealand Herald reported.
New Zealand's market structure offers few rewards to generators
for maintaining capacity in excess of demand and relies
heavily on a 155-MW diesel-fueled power station built in
2004 and owned by the government for reserve power.
The country's peak demand is about 5,970 MW. A significant
amount of the nation's power is generated by hydroelectric
sources, and it has a range of renewable energy at its disposal.
Hydro-lake water levels were the lowest since 1992 - when
a similar severe drought caused blackouts and water-heating
cuts - but they were still well above 1992 levels. Energy
consultants gauged the risk of 1992-type blackouts at 10%
Sources: Winterpower.co.nz, Sunday Star-Times, The New