21 Sep 2018

Aurora Energy staff warned not to leak to media

7:30 pm on 21 September 2018

Aurora Energy's staff have been warned that if information continues to leak into the public domain then forensic investigators may be brought in to find its source.

Some powerlines north of Granity were damaged in former cyclone Fehi, power companiy is concerned they may come down during former cyclone Gita causing power outage north of Granity and would pose a risk to life, warned to stay clear.

Some powerlines north of Granity were damaged in former cyclone Fehi, power companiy is concerned they may come down during former cyclone Gita causing power outage north of Granity and would pose a risk to life, warned to stay clear. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Dunedin City Council-owned company has consistently told media and politicians it will be transparent with the public going forward.

Despite that assurance in recent weeks RNZ's requests for interviews have been declined and questions have remained unanswered.

Last week, RNZ reported more than 9500 red-tagged power poles were on Aurora's network last March. Within eight months that had mysteriously reduced to less than 1800, despite nowhere near 7000 poles being installed on the network in that time.

That information came from Aurora's own data.

And then, this week, the lines company's chief executive, Richard Fletcher, emailed staff warning them against leaking information to the media.

In his email to staff, which RNZ has obtained a copy of, Mr Fletcher outlined his concerns that such reporting suggested information was leaking from within the company.

He likened such leaks to theft and implored staff to stop and questioned why such people would work for the company.

He even suggested forensic specialists could be brought in if leaks continued.

Whistleblower Richard Healey, who walked away from the company two years ago to reveal the concerning state of its network, said such an email was not suggestive of transparency.

"Richard Fletcher's nailed his colours to the mast and unsurprisingly the new colours are the same as the old colours," Mr Healey said.

"The same corporate policy of opaqueness and the same lack of visibility of operations is as evident with the new version of Aurora as the old version. It's an incredibly disappointing situation."

The information which had been reported was information the public had a right to know, Mr Healey said.

"The information that's been released so far has been released because the staff understand that it's critical to the safe operation of the network and that it needs to be out there in the public."

RNZ attempted to contact Mr Fletcher and requested an interview, but was unsuccessful.

Dunedin councillor Lee Vandervis said the company's policy on transparency was lacking.

"I think their idea of transparent and the public's idea of transparent still remain quite different things," he said.

"There are certain things a business needs to keep to itself, but in terms of being really upfront - even to councillors in private meetings about the state of the network - no I don't think they have done a very good job and there's a lot of room for improvement there."

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, part of whose constituency is serviced by Aurora, said the email showed the company's priorities were still skewed.

On Monday more than 4000 customers in the Queenstown Lakes district lost power after heavy snowfall.

"My concern here is Aurora Energy charge their consumers for their services, their services are failing and clearly not coping, most recently a snow event which was entirely predictable, and I would have thought their focus should be on remedying that," she said.

"I believe Aurora, by putting through internal emails looking for whistleblowers, are perhaps misdirecting their attention."


  • 2010: A linesman is electrocuted when a pole owned by Aurora fell over while he is working on it.
  • 2012: Aurora is warned by the Commerce Commission for breaching its quality standards.
  • October 2016: Former staffer Richard Healey walks away from the company and goes to the media to outline his concerns about the state of the network after years of under investment.
  • Aurora announces a fast-track pole replacement programme to address more than 2900 high-priority poles at a cost of $30 million.

  • December 2016: A Deloitte report finds serious systematic problems in the network and in the words of Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull it is not as safe as it should be.
  • June 2017: Aurora and its sister company Delta - which employs contractors which work on the lines - split after effectively working as one organisation.
  • December 2017: Aurora's fast-track programme is completed.
  • 17 September 2018: The Commerce Commission announces it is taking Aurora to court over breaches of its quality standards in 2016 and 2017: The commission says the company's performance in 2018 is also under investigation.

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