23 Feb 2010

Power shortages unlikely this winter - company

9:55 am on 23 February 2010

New Zealand's third largest state power company believes the country will avoid a winter power shortage this year.

Dry weather has led to electricity supply shortages four times in a decade, and cost industrial and other users millions of dollars.

But Mighty River Power says it is cautiously optimistic this year will be the second in a row without trouble.

The company says a 132-megawatt Nga Awa Purua geothermal plant, near Taupo, will on its own exceed the North Island's entire annual growth in power usage.

It also says storage levels and inflows to the South Island hydro lakes are favourable.

Lower six-month profit

Mighty River Power has generated a lower half-year underlying profit, partly due to lower wholesale prices as the country's hydro storage lakes filled up.

Excluding one-off changes, the electricity generator and retailer's underlying profit fell to $85.5 million, a decrease of 29% on the same period a year ago.

Sales fell 10% to $522 million, as wholesale prices fell 26% to an average $53 a megawatt hour, and generation declined due to lower inflows into the Waikato River.

However, it managed to lift its retail base to 400,000 as it took customers off Contact in the South Island.

The company's headline profit more than doubled to $73.9 million due to gains in the fair value of its financial instruments.

Chief executive, Doug Heffernan expects the company will have a lower full year profit, though earnings will be supplemented by the introduction of its Nga Awa Purua geothermal plant.

Dams 'will last for decades'

Meanwhile, the company says its eight dams on the Waikato River, built between 1929 and 1964, are standing up well and will last for decades to come.

Strengthening work has recently been carried out on the oldest of the dams.

Mighty River Power says the structures are actually getting stronger with age, because the aggregate used in their construction hardens with time.

The company says upgrading turbines in the dams is improving their output, and the structures themselves are regularly surveyed to assess their strength.