Power outages: Can anyone tells us this wont happen again? – Vera Alves


I’m usually pretty proud to talk about New Zealand to my family overseas. We live Covid-free, in a fairly peaceful nation, with public healthcare, and meat pies are an acceptable breakfast choice.

That’s why it felt so weird to see the puzzled look on their faces this morning when I told them that we had the coldest night of the winter last night, so power went out for thousands of people, with virtually no notice.

That’s right. Electricity authorities last night announced that demand for power had reached “an all-time high” so, naturally, they cut the power off to thousands. On the coldest night of the year. In 2021.

I watched this morning as Energy Minister Megan Woods gave a press conference at Parliament where she managed to say lots of words while simultaneously not really saying anything at all.

“We’re asking questions” was her answer to pretty much every question asked to her, the minister responsible for ensuring things like this don’t happen.

The only thing to take from that press conference is the feeling that what happened last night to thousands of New Zealanders may very well happen again tonight or on any other cold night because no one, not even the Energy Minister or the Prime Minister, can tell us it won’t.

New Zealanders don’t know if they can be warm at home tonight. Or tomorrow night or any other night of this winter for that matter.

It’s 2021 and I’m sitting here worrying about whether I’ll be able to keep my toddler warm at home tonight, when the temperature plunges into the negative degrees. Not because I can’t afford power (although, barely, I paid $600 for it last month because the lack of insulation means I have to run the heaters in the bedrooms all night long to stop my fingers from turning purple), but because I live in a country where, apparently, power supply is not a guarantee.

And even when we hear things are sorted and we have a few days in a row with the power on, able to cook our meals, have hot showers and run our heaters, how long until we feel safe again?

Now we’re being told about the load on the infrastructure, the cables and the whatnots. That’s not our problem. People went to bed cold last night, don’t give them technicalities and minutiae. Give them answers and the assurance that you will not let this happen again.

What is going to be done to make up for last night? How is Transpower going to compensate the customers affected by this?

I think I know the answer to that question and, honestly, it’s a shame my red hot rage doesn’t actually generate any heat otherwise I’d get you to plug me into the national grid and solve this whole mess.

Last night felt like a new low. And the irony of it all going down on the same night the IPCC report came out should not be lost on anyone. I hate being cynical about this but how can we dream about a mass switch to electric vehicles when we can’t even guarantee electricity to run the heaters in our homes?

Parents of young babies couldn’t keep them warm last night, elderly people spent the coldest night of the year with the power off. This is not what looking after people looks like.

“Keeping the lights on” is usually business lingo for keeping the wheels turning but without making much progress. It looks like the government suddenly can’t even do that anymore, in a literal sense.

But don’t worry … they’re “asking questions” and “looking at what happened”. In the meantime, I’ll stock up on candles and hope for the best.

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