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Cook Strait cable constraints to remain for another winter

Wednesday 1st May 2013

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Plans to have the Cook Strait cable fully refurbished with a new connection in time for this winter have been stymied by low inflows into the country's hydro-electricity catchments.

Meridian Energy noted the delay in fully commissioning the new connection, known as Pole 3, in its quarterly operational report, and national grid operator Transpower says it will still be able to offer between 350 Megawatts and 450 MW of the pole's 700MW rated capacity through the winter months.

However, current hydrological conditions make it impossible to test Pole 3 at "full power." Ageing connections between the North and South Islands have been a bugbear for the electricity industry over the last five years, leading to sharply diverging prices paid for wholesale electricity in both islands.

However, Meridian says its results for the financial year to Sept 30 are on track to be Meridian still expects to deliver a "significant improvement" on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and changes in the value of financial instruments, compared to last year.

That was despite wholesale electricity prices being 25 percent lower in the three months to March 31 than in the same period last year because total generation was up 33 percent for the quarter, following torrential rain early in the period. That was despite inflows for the quarter coming in below last year's, which were the second lowest on record, reflecting the summer drought that developed early in the new year.

Meridian also reported the loss of some 14,000 retail electricity customers during the quarter, reflecting the dissolving of a partnership with Energy Direct NZ, which is to pursue growth as an independent retailer.

Total customers under the Meridian and Powershop brands now stand at 270,634, with online brand Powershop customer numbers growing 3 percent.

The quarterly review gives no update on negotiations between Meridian and the owner of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, Rio Tinto subsidiary Pacific Aluminium, which appeared to be breaking down last month but have resumed.

The report noted the smelter had reduced load to 540MW during the quarter to help Meridian deal with low hydro inflows.

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