20 Nov 2022

Debate sparks up on controversial sale of Eastland Network

12:20 pm on 20 November 2022
no caption

The Eastland network provides power to nearly 26,000 customers across Tairāwhiti and Wairoa. Photo: 123rf.com

The controversial sale of the publicly owned electricity lines company in Gisborne would leave the region in a "precarious" state, a councillor says.

In June, Trust Tairāwhiti announced plans to sell the region's lines company Eastland Network.

The network provides power to nearly 26,000 customers across Tairāwhiti and Wairoa.

Trust Tairāwhiti is responsible for the Gisborne region's economic development and tourism. It is the sole shareholder of Eastland Group which looks after regional infrastructure - the port, electricity network and electricity generation. Trustees are chosen by the Gisborne District Council.

It said a review identified the network would be worth selling, to get funds for local and national renewable energy projects and a port expansion.

A meeting was held on Friday, where members of the public had the chance to speak to trustees about the sale.

Gisborne District councillor Colin Alder expressed his strong personal view.

"I believe the Eastland electrical network is a key asset to the economic development and well-being of our region. What did your last fuel bill cost you? EV could be one fifth of that, free of oil cartels and free from world wars."

He argued charging cars at work and plugging them into the grid at night would lead to "real well-being".

"Let's keep this asset under local control, with greater emphasis on service and less on profit... now is not the time to be selling an asset like this."

He said the network was a reliable asset, while the other Eastland assets - the port and electricity generation - were risky.

"Our port, totally reliant on forestry, totally reliant on China at the moment. Generation? Risky and in a thermal area - prone to earthquake and eruptions. Without the network, this portfolio looks very precarious ... our forefathers encapsulated this asset for future generations, knowing its value."

Former trustee Jim Martin had a different view.

"Did our forefathers [have] this asset for us with the intention to hold it forever? I don't think so. The trust deed specifically says every three years the trustees must consider the continued ownership of the asset, which indicates the settlers of the trust wanted that to happen, they didn't say that we would hold it forever."

He said he had spoken to friends and clients who had started using solar energy.

"There could come a time when the network is just servicing heavy industry and some residential. It may lose a lot of connections over time. Now could be the best time to sell this asset if you've got the right price. One thing that's absolutely certain - if you sell it today it's still here tomorrow, it's regulated by government as to the price and its continued existence."

A spokesperson for Trust Tairāwhiti said a decision on the network sale would be made public in due course.