Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Paying for the storms to come

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  • Bart Janssen,

    I’m willing to lay odds that whatever money Entrust has set aside for undergrounding of power lines amounts to only a tiny fraction of the cost of undergrounding the 45% of the city that still has overhead lines

    And you're right.

    But it isn't as straightforward as saying it wasn't enough money to prevent the chaos of his week.

    If, as should have happened, each year that dividend had been used to underground lines, then each year there would have been fewer lines to knock down and repair each year and fewer power poles for drivers to wrap their cars around.

    That reduces repair costs each year leaving more operating costs to invest in more undergrounding.

    It's a virtuous cycle.

    Stack that up over a decade and while we still would have had a disaster last week but it would have been 10 or 20% fewer lines down. And that makes a huge difference to recovery.

    But instead we've had management teams more concerned with this years KPIs and getting their bonuses than with providing a service to their employers - because that's what the public is - we are their employers - we pay their salaries and we have a right to expect better of them.

    Of course that's all moot now - now we have an urgent disaster. And every useless councilor we've had in the past shares the blame for that. They should all be ashamed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4412 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    I see Dan Bidois, the new National party candidate for Northcote, is a man from another era when it comes to having a Pan-Auckland vision.

    The hard-working people of Northcote are not a piggy bank for Phil Goff, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters to raid to pay for pet projects on the other side of the Bridge that won't benefit us here," he said.

    Good grief. Next he'll be claiming rail to the shore will just bring brown people from South Auckland to steal their cars.

    Seriously where the fuck does National find these people in 2018?

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2181 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Botany, in his case. Figures.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19481 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to Sacha,

    Botany, in his case. Figures.

    So what side of the bridge is he talking about? Also, I think a drinking game involving every time a National MP says "hard working" wouldn't last very long until everyone was drop dead drunk.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2181 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    But as Todd Niall's excellent RNZ Insight programme explained today, we are now very much paying the infrastructure bills shirked by the councils of the 60s, 70s and 80s

    A period that was dominated by the late unlamented CitRats ticket. Now that the supercity structure has basically broken their self-proclaimed birthright on power...

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5370 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    Unfortunately coverage like that from Todd Niall is in the media margins, while a visiting celeb who looks over at Rangitoto and says "Auckland is awesome!' will get the front page.

    We (or at least, our media) are more interested in assessing Auckland superficially, through meaningless international surveys ("5th most livable, says press release we've copied and pasted!") than in facing up to our long-term problems. The people who make the decisions need our votes first, and they're not encouraged to get elected by telling hard truths.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1234 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    Given the likely effects of climate change it might be worth following the landscape with any new infrastructure. Specifically, built it on ridgelines and put the important bits at the top. That way you might still have power when K road is a ferry route

    (I kid, sea level rise this century is very likely to be less than 50m ... but only likely to be less than 10m. Those words have exact meanings when the IPCC use them).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1086 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    It's not just physical tidalwaves that need guarding against, but political ones too. Especially the ones caused by Cyclone Donald, Cyclone Nigel, Cyclone Marine, Cyclone Hugo, and Cyclone Vladimir.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5370 posts Report Reply

  • Trevor Nicholls, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    every time a National MP says "hard working"

    The annoying thing is many of the people described as "hard working" are not really working as hard as those who don't have trust funds, or big inheritances, or mortgage free properties, or 1.5 children at posh school; and some of them are not working at all, just living on rich people's versions of the benefit.

    Wellington, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • John Holley,

    Yes, Vector has issues, but my bigger concern was CDEM Auckland's response (or lack of it). I cannot understand why the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) was not fully activated prior to the storm hitting. The impact of the storm had been predicted and a major weather event is rated the most probable "disaster" event for Auckland for any organisation that has a BCP/DR plan, based on CDEM's Auckland risk register.

    So why was the EEC not stood up prior? It took well over 12 more hours after the major power cuts hit for CDEM Auckland to put out anything on the Red Cross Hazard App. (And one tweet 2.5 hours after the power cuts)

    So while there are real issues around infrastructure resiliency, the leadership of CDEM Auckland, responsible for 1/3 of NZ's population, needs a close inspection.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 141 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The Herald has republished the post above – and Shayne Currie tells me that Simon Wilson and others are working on the story today.

    Which is good, because I'd been feeling like the Herald was kind of missing an important story.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Robert Harvey, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The Herald has republished the post above

    Interesting (perhaps) that they did not include the link to the Vector outage map which is in your original.

    Westmere • Since Nov 2006 • 55 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Attachment

    Okay, this is pretty interesting.

    This is from the Auckland Emergency Management action plan presented on Saturday. I think the way to read it is that the new upwards flow of information to the political layer (the minister and MPs) was prompted by some "please explain" questions, because it's not standard operating procedure – especially without a state of emergency having been declared.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    Having spent many of my weekend hours traipsing about the north-west of Auckland as a humanitarian volunteer, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the biggest pain-point for the affected has been Vector's communications.
    I shall spare you, dear reader, from the language that I heard, but there was precious little said to me that was flattering about the organisation; the linesmen, yes, but no love was forthcoming for Vector management. The uncertainty was what really bothered them. One gentleman I spoke with is a chef, and said "We have big commercial walk-in freezers at work. If I'd known it was going to be several days I could have taken things there. But by the time we knew, it was too late."

    Probably the lightest point came on Saturday, whilst in Piha doing a "local intelligence check" with a key resident. She was about to go and have a hot shower, with most of Piha's power having come back on about half an hour before, when the Vector app informed her that her electricity was due to be restored on Tuesday. It was a great example of the "accuracy" *cough* and "precision" *choke* of how the app's data sources are parsed.

    Also, it is now just Auckland Emergency Management, or AEM.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Russell Brown,

    because it’s not standard operating procedure – especially without a state of emergency having been declared.

    That last bit is crucial. A declaration of a state of emergency is, by law, a political decision; the only people who are empowered to declare a state of emergency are specific local-body politicians or the Minister of Civil Defence. When briefings are going all the way to the Beehive, that is a lot of political interest, especially when it is the Controller - , the highest-ranking civil defence official in the area, John Dragicevich in this case - who is delivering those briefings. Those necks are being breathed-down with much vigour.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Comforted to see we’re not the few who were perturbed.

    As an aside, were any of the local MPs visible throughout this? One thing I find odd is that often the parties with list MPs are near invisible. That needs to change.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2891 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Hebe,

    Comforted to see we’re not the few who were perturbed.

    But not until Saturday, it seems. Or, at least, not perturbed enough to justify being briefed by AEM until Saturday.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Incredible.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2891 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Hebe,

    The local politicians would have been getting briefings of some level of detail from Wednesday morning, depending on their role. Goff would have got them from Wednesday, probably along with other senior councillors. When local boards started getting them is anyone's guess, but being rather powerless they probably had to chase them rather than having them volunteered.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Tet Yoon Lee,

    One thing which seems have been ignored with the AECT/Entrust discussion is while we at least have some money to pay for undergrounding in the Auckland, Manukau and Papakura areas, there is none in the Waitakere, North Shore and Rodney areas. In case it’s unclear the agreement does only cover thoes areas. https://www.vector.co.nz/personal/electricity/undergrounding-other-projects https://www.entrustnz.co.nz/community/undergrounding/ Basically I think if you’re not in an area that receives the dividend and votes for the board, you’re not in an area covered https://www.entrustnz.co.nz/entrust-dividend/who-qualifies/

    Since the outages were so widespread, there must be many affected who are in Entrust areas with overhead lines. Mt Albert is one and I’ve come across many stories from before the storm of residents complaining about the lack of progress e.g. http://www.mtalbertinc.co.nz/when-will-we-go-underground/ and https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/central-leader/102811034/auckland-residents-still-waiting-for-power-lines-to-go-underground-after-two-decades .

    But there are many others in areas not covered, West Auckland is after all one of the areas which has received a lot of attention. To be fair, I imagine in some area especially those still without power it’s complicated. E.g. if the problem is a single line through bush, what’s the cost/benefit to undergrounding this? However others e.g. Te Atatu are a lot more of the classic suburb with above ground lines scenario which could just be handled like others in Entrust areas if, only there were funding for it.

    (I live in West Auckland but fortunately an underground area. Didn’t have any power cut either on Tuesday or due to the the substation problem on Friday.)

    I guess there’s theoretically a way, likely involving a vote in the Entrust areas to expand the agreement to cover undergrounding in area’s currently not covered. But Dan Bidois’s comments highlighted by another commentator demonstrate one thing. If you think there’s any realistic chance of this happening, you must be new to Auckland politics. It doesn’t matter, as another commentator highlighted, that in the long term undergrounding may pay for itself in terms of reduced maintenence costs i.e. increased dividends.

    Remember that Entrust owns 75.1% of Vector, so while Vector’s management could independently decide to commit much more to undergrounding particularly outside the Entrust areas, ultimately Entrust will need to agree with what they’re spending their money on.

    BTW, according to that earlier Vector & Entrust pages on undergrounding, the amount currently committed for undergrounding is $10.5 million a year. (It’s also not solely for undergrounding anymore, but also used for new tech like solar.) So even half the dividend will mean we’re spending about 6x what we currently spend. I wouldn’t say it’s insignificant.

    I’d note also that even if you solve the Vector funding problem you still have another. The news reports on Mt Albert mention that one reason the areas aren’t being undergrounded is because Chorus is reducing their funding for these initiatives and doesn’t want to pay the costs in that area given the volcanic rock concerns Russell Brown mentioned. Vector doesn’t see much point undergrounding if there are still going to be telecommunication lines above ground. And actually despite the benefits, given the disruption and costs I’m not sure if it makes sense for the companies to do these separately either. So you have another funding problem with Chorus.

    Some have suggested ratepayer or taxpayer funding for undergrounding but it’s always a bit tricky when a private company is receiving funding for something which will also significantly benefit them. If this does end up happening, it needs to be designed carefully.

    On a slightly related point, while I agree that generally the UFB project was a good idea, I think these problems and those mentioned in the story Russell Brown do raise questions over some of the specifics. It does seem Chorus is going down the ultra cheap and shoddy route in some cases, especially with the home installs. I mean even their standards are seemingly often not followed with many reports of cables being barely buried. 20cm may not be much but at least it’s something. And while this may arise due to the contractors, ignoring that they are ultimately Chorus’s responsibility I think it’s also clear that one reason they’re doing such a poor job is because the amount Chorus is paying them.

    Whether all these are because Chorus underbid to win nearly all of the contracts, the standards etc that were part of the agreement weren’t good enough or whatever, I don’t know. (From what I’ve read, the cost of home installs wasn’t something well considered.) I do think we have another timebomb or at least cost which both consumers and shareholders are going to be paying for over a long time due to excessive cost cutting when it would have been far better for everyone if only a little bit more had been spent. (And this is one of the sad things, I suspect as often the case that the amount saved is actually quite small even just compared to what’s being spent, let alone to what it will eventually cost.)

    Since Nov 2013 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Most of Wellington has overhead lines and they don't blow over in storms?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • kiwicmc,

    Just to add a couple of data points, over the last two years I’ve had 3 fibre connections installed by Chorus. All of these installations have been of an exceptionally high standard. So #notallinstallations …

    The process of ordering and getting approvals however, that’s a whole different story.

    Dammit, that was supposed to be a Reply to a Post

    Auckland, New Zealand • Since May 2008 • 88 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    The lines don't blow over - but the trees do blow over onto the lines.

    This led Vector management to blame Aucklanders for having trees that could blow over onto the lines that Vector should have been putting underground for the last two decades.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4412 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Most of Wellington has overhead lines and they don't blow over in storms?

    Welli's most likely trees would have already fallen down in your normal breezes.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19481 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Tet Yoon Lee,

    On a slightly related point, while I agree that generally the UFB project was a good idea, I think these problems and those mentioned in the story Russell Brown do raise questions over some of the specifics. It does seem Chorus is going down the ultra cheap and shoddy route in some cases, especially with the home installs.

    Good point (and not the only one in your very useful comment). I'm possibly still just elated at finally getting off the ancient paper-insulated copper in Point Chev. We were offline for more than a week after Watercare broke a pipe and the copper got wet.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

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