8 Dec 2016

Power cut: Bullet casings found at transmission towers

7:43 pm on 8 December 2016

Power has been restored to thousands of homes and businesses in the Far North after a suspected vandalism attack on transmission towers.

The outage affected all areas from Kaikohe north, including 31,000 homes and businesses.

Three transmission towers have a number of their glass insulators damaged.

Transpower suspects the damage to three transmission towers was intentional after bullet casings were found at their base Photo: Supplied / Transpower

Transpower said it had fixed enough of the damage to reconnect the region to the national grid, and should complete the repairs by tomorrow.

It said Top Energy would now have to gradually bring the region back on line from Kaikohe to Cape Reinga, and everyone should have power again within the hour.

Firearm bullet casings were found at the base of the transmission towers as technicians carried out repairs today. It was suspected that the damage was intentional and Northland police have been advised.

Transpower said earlier that three transmission towers have damage to their glass insulators. Materials were brought in from Wellsford for the repair job.

Top Energy said the electricity was cut shortly before 3am at a location in rugged terrain between Kaikohe and Maungatapere.

Chief executive Russell Shaw said the apparent act of wanton vandalism was gutting.

Schools, shops and businesses were closed during the outage, and cell phone coverage was down in many areas.

Mark Anderson, who chairs Kaikohe's Business Association and runs a Bridgestone tyre shop, said the town was incredibly quiet this morning with few businesses able to operate.

"We look to these months to put a bit of money in the bank in the lead up to Christmas, so it certainly doesn't help on that account."

The tourist town of Paihia also took a financial hit from the outage.

Local retailer Rex Wilson said a cruise ship arrived in the bay this morning, but many passengers stayed on board after hearing the town had no electricity.

He said those that did come ashore thought they had gone back in time - as shops, including his, used makeshift lighting and old zip-zap machines to process purchases.

There were also long waits for food and drink.

Mr Wilson said he did about half the business he usually did in a normal day, because of the power cut.

Far North District Council asked people to conserve water and avoid flushing toilets during the power cut, as sewerage and town water systems relied on mains electricity.

The council hooked up emergency generators to keep the Kerikeri sewerage plant operating.

Kaitaia retailer and farmer Ian Walker said the single transmission line into the north was simply inadequate.

"You cannot build an economy, you cannot attract investment into the Far North, and businesses to come here, when they consider the energy supply unreliable and poor quality. And I've been on about this for years."

Mr Walker said politicians were forever trying to fix the north's social problems - but until it had reliable infrastructure, they might as well not bother.

Farmer Sylvia Bryant said she felt most sorry for the thousands of unmilked cows that spent the day bellowing in pain.

She said she would like to get her hands on the culprits who shot out the lights.

"I want them in prison. Or I want to be allowed to shoot them - pepper them with a bit of shot, make them bend over and I'll pepper them."