A large slip about 10km southwest of Wellsford is threatening two pylons carrying power to Northland. Photo / Transpower
On-edge Northland communities — some of which only had electricity restored a matter of days ago — are bracing themselves for the possibility of more power outages.
While Civil Defence regards the threat to the region’s electricity supply only as “potential”, it’s still urging people to prepare for blackouts.
The reason for the concern is a large slip about 10 kilometres southwest of Wellsford below two pylons carrying separate high-voltage electricity lines to Northland.
If one pylon were to fall, it would likely take the other one down as well.
Rewi Tolich, chairman of Tauteihiihi Marae, near Kohukohu, said the township had been without power for five days after Cyclone Gabrielle, while homes in surrounding areas were in the dark for up to seven days.
News of possible further power cuts wouldn’t be welcome, he said.
“In the past, people would have shrugged it off, but now everyone’s on edge. Plus the ground’s still so wet, and our roads, like West Coast Rd and Mangamuka Gorge, still haven’t been repaired from last year.”
During Gabrielle, the marae served as a community welfare hub providing food and shelter even though it was also without power — the inspiration behind this week’s donation by the Red Cross of 32 generators to the district’s emergency centres.
Mark Ryall, of national grid operator Transpower, said geotechnical engineers had recommended moving the pylons rather than trying to stabilise them.
A bypass for the higher voltage 220kV line would be built but to do that safely and reduce the risk of losing both lines to further slips. The 110kV line had been taken temporarily out of service.
That meant everywhere north of Warkworth now depended on a single line with no back-up, increasing the risk of power cuts.
“While the risk of a fault or further slip on the 220kV line is small, we wanted to ensure that people are aware of the risk and able to take steps to prepare for any unplanned outages,” Ryall said.
Access to the site was difficult, so it would take time even just to cut a track to bring in the necessary equipment. The first stage of the bypass was due to be completed by the end of next week.
Northland Civil Defence said the power supply threat was potential rather than definite, but Northlanders needed to know about it and take a few steps to prepare.
“And if it does turn out that we have a power outage, it’s still easier than dealing with that plus wind and rain, as we were during Cyclone Gabrielle,” a spokesman said.
He recommended Northlanders take the usual steps to prepare for a power outage, such as readying a gas barbecue for cooking, having torches or solar lanterns for lighting, and keeping devices charged.
Households relying on electric pumps for water should store a plentiful supply. Gabrielle had also shown the value of having cash on hand when Eftpos systems were down.