OnPoint by Keith Ng

JTF: Brownlee - 93.53% Bullshit

Last Sunday, we debunked National's Energy Spokeman Gerry Brownlee's claim that the electricity system is in crisis, but this week, he's continued his campaign with two of the most bogus "facts" we've seen this year.

"National Party Energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee says he understands that Labour's emergency stand-by power generator at Whirinaki is running flat out burning up to one million litres of diesel every 24 hours." - National Energy Spokesperson, Gerry Brownlee

If we're to take "running flat out" as meaning "operating at 100%", Brownlee's about 93.53% off. According to Contact Energy, operators of the Whirinaki power plant, it was running at 6.47% of its maximum output in February. In January, it ran at 2.34%. When questioned about his claim, Brownlee told the Herald on Sunday:

"I think you'll find, when you see the figures, that it's running at something like 16 hours a day at full speed."

You'd be forgiven for thinking that "16 hours a day" meant "16 hours every day". Not the way Brownlee is using it. The figures show that it ran for 16 hours on a day - on one single day, that is - and only at full speed for 11 hours. When presented with the figures, Brownlee backed down further. Kinda.

"With all due respect, you've got to sharpen up a bit here. These people [at Contact Energy] are trying to put a bit of gloss on a very big turd. The deal here is that yes, across a month, it might have only run for 3% [up to 24 Feb] of that month. But there were days, there were hours, and there were other batches of time during that month where it had to run otherwise the lights would go out."

That's not true, either. According to Kieran Devine, General Manager of System Operations at Transpower, Whirinaki kicked in because the hydro generators were trying to conserve water for winter. That's to say, if the demand for power went up further than it did, or if Whirinaki didn't run, the hydros would have kicked in again. The lights would not have gone out.

But the system was also tighter than usual at that time, said Devine, because power plants were taken down for maintenance to ensure that they were ready for winter, and the Huntly power station couldn't operate at full capacity because the river (which it uses for cooling) was too hot. During winter, when power usage is highest, these problems will disappear.

"Genesis boss Murray Jackson told the [Select] Committee that at winter peak the North Island would be 1000 M/Ws short of supply." - National Energy Spokesperson, Gerry Brownlee

No, he didn't. According to the Genesis Energy spokesperson, the 1000MW figure refered to the capacity that went when the Pole 1 interisland cable was taken down for maintenance and the New Plymouth power plant was closed. These were things that everyone in the industry and everyone on the Select Committee already knew about, and didn't mean that the North Island was 1000MW short of supply.

Brownlee's mistake could be excused if the National Winter Group - a group of industry experts that includes members from Genesis Energy - didn't just release a report earlier in the month outlining the situation. They looked at a worst case scenario, in which we experienced a one-in-twenty-year high demand, a one-in-ten-year low in generation, with Pole 1 remaining completely useless. If this happened, they expect that we would still have 348MW of reserve capacity left, but we would be vulnerable to major faults. If Transpower brought Pole 1 back at half capacity - which it's currently considering - then we could survive the worse case scenario plus a major failure without industrial users having to cut back.

But even under a worse-than-worst-case-scenario, with the biggest power generator failing and Pole 2 going down as well, it still wouldn't get close to 1000MW. Not only did Brownlee misunderstand Jackson and demand government action without checking the facts, but he claimed something that flew in the face of common sense.

Tsk tsk, Mr Brownlee. Pretty poor effort for a would-be Energy Minister.