Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Government outage

Like most productive people, I was very happy to hear that Parliament Buildings and the Government Centre of Wellington were shut down yesterday morning by a power cut.  For nearly twenty minutes yesterday, the Government was unable to meddle.  That twenty-minute outage must have saved the country millions!

Any government outage is something to celebrate. If only it could have lasted longer.

I'd like to think that the outage might concentrate politicians' minds (such as they are) on the parlous state of NZ's power generation and reticulation -- particularly the former -- and the absolute necessity for an industrial economy to have power.  Never mind government shutting down for twenty minutes, that's a genuine boon to the economy, but without sufficient power we simply don't have an industrial economy.

I'd like to think too that the politicians from all parliamentary parties might have taken the opportunity of the outage to think about how close we are to the limits of NZ's power generating capacity, and the consequences (not for them, but for NZ's industry) of this serious lack of capacity.

I'd also like to think that the politicians from the Labour Party might have taken the opportunity of the outage to reflect on their ban on the construction of new thermal power stations, and the politicians of the National Party might have taken the opportunity to reflect on their signing of the Kyoto Protocol when in government (which is what makes the ban on the construction of new thermal power stations necessary) and on their introduction of the Resource Management Act when in government (which makes the urgent construction of alternatives to new thermal power stations necessary, but all but impossible).

I'd like to think that all the politicians would think seriously about all of this ... but I suspect I'm expecting too much.

UPDATE 1The Hive reports yesterday's outage presages more to come:

The blackout that struck central Wellington yesterday may be a regular occurrence unless we have a deluge down south. Major users are talking about contingency plans for their companies running a 9 working day fortnight later in the winter. Maybe small and medium enterprise should be making similar preparations.

And maybe politicians could consider their culpability.

UPDATE 2: Good to see the blackout has concentrated the minds of the media and the grey ones on the parlous state of NZ's power generation capacity.  Electricity demand has been increasing at 150MW per year, while real capacity has increased at only a fraction of the number required. 

We now hear from Transpower's Patrick Strange that industry is already feeling the pinch this year -- factories from Bluff to Auckland running fewer shifts and producing less wealth, all because of the parlous state of the present system, and with no new real generation capacity in sight.


  1. Time to go buy a diesel genset and a 40 gallon drum of derv to power it.


  2. There is no serious lack of capacity – in fact it’s higher now than nearly all of the 90s. What we have is a hydro based system experiencing a dry year and that means you have to manage carefully. Most years we have excess rain and have some of the cheapest power around.

    What you seem to be saying is effectively “we don’t want to manage, we must have unlimited access to power”, but you don’t then ask “how much will that cost, who will benefit and who will pay?”. Those are really important questions that need to be answered, because someone is going to have to and based on current markets, it’s not going to be the industrials that ride the market and complain when it goes against them – it’s probably going to be you and me with little market power.

    You have to ask, if power was so important to them, why don’t they build their own reserves? That they don’t means they don’t value the risk highly enough to manage it. So either the risk is actually not as high as they say, or they are hoping to pass the risk and cost to everyone else.

    I agree the thermal moratorium is a potential problem in the future, but it actually doesn’t matter now because it doesn’t exist, and so has had no impact on the current situation which is entirely weather driven. Unless you want to lessen our dependence on hydro, the cheapest option for the country may be in managing demand every now and then.


  3. addendum

    MfE today has released Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment: A guidance manual for local government – 2nd edition

    I dread to think what local government is going to do with this in their so called planning – perhaps worth a post from you or Owen.

    But what it does say is that hydro areas are likely to get even more rain. Meaning we can expect fewer years like this one. Assuming they are right of course… However, I seem to recall them predicting last winter as cold and dry and it was warm and wet.



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