25 Jan 2022

How power stations will stay running under mass isolation

From Checkpoint, 5:24 pm on 25 January 2022

Electricity generator Contact Energy is confident that it will be able to keep the lights on even when Omicron is at its peak.

The company owns and operates 11 power stations and has close to 1000 workers spread across eight locations Auckland, Te Rapa, Stratford, Wairakei, Wellington, Levin, Clyde and Dunedin.

Contact chief executive Mike Fuge said it had been preparing for Omicron to hit and was basing it on evidence from overseas where there had been up to 25 percent absenteeism at any particular time during the outbreak.

He said Omicron presented new challenge in terms of its transmissibility but the company had already taken a number of measures to deal with Covid-19.

"Obviously we've become very adept at working from home, we were amongst the group that introduced RAT testing, rapid antigen testing, to industry late last year and we'd already got contingency plans around split shifts.

"The difference with Omicron is that you have to pull all those various tactics together into one strategy all at once."

Fuge said staff who did not need to go to work were encouraged to work from home and the two groups should not be mixed up.

He said the company ensured those who needed to do on-the-job critical functions were able to do so, while those working from home support that.

Fuge said the aim was to minimise the risk of cross infection amongst staff through use of split shifts and ring fencing different groups of staff.

He said staff were also double vaccinated and encouraged to get booster shots as soon as they could.

Fuge said he was confident that there was back-up for critical staff by using measures such as split shifts.

"Beyond that you're looking at more creative solutions like bringing back recently retired staff if you need to."

The government has announced some essential workers will be able to use a negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) to get out of isolation in the later stages of the Omicron outbreak.

Fuge said his workers should be part of that scheme.

"We are a lifeline utility. We have a critical role in making sure that New Zealanders have the lights on and that they come home to warm comfortable homes every day. And I think as an industry, what has been fantastic to see is the collaboration across the industry, to make sure that happens in the months ahead."