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Unison's Cyclone Response Four Weeks On

One month on from Cyclone Gabrielle hitting Hawke’s Bay and wreaking havoc across the region, local electricity distributor Unison is still working relentlessly to restore power to several hundred customers across the region. 

Cyclone Gabrielle caused widespread damage to Unison’s local power network in Hawke’s Bay, as well as severe flood damage to Transpower’s Redclyffe Substation which connects Napier and parts of Hastings to the national power grid, causing a grid emergency.

In the days following the cyclone, a peak of 75,000 customers were without power, Hawke’s Bay’s connection to the national grid was lost, three of Unison’s substations were out of service due to flooding, two fibre links were destroyed, and around 500 power pole structures were damaged.

As at 9.30am Tuesday, 700 customers remain without power across the region, of which less than 200 are occupied residential households.

Unison’s Incident Controller and GM for Commercial Jason Larkin says, “It is with sadness that we mark one month since Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand shores. We wish to acknowledge the huge devastation Cyclone Gabrielle has caused thousands of people and the loss of lives.

“We understand how hard it is for our customers still without power and although we have made huge gains in reconnecting customers, we will not rest until we have finished the job. Four weeks is a long time to be without power and we are doing everything we can to connect those remaining customers.

“The scale of this event has seen our teams and crews step up and deliver at pace to overcome complex challenges in conditions never experienced before. We’ve had to pivot at every stage of our response to ensure we remain focused on the next challenge.

“Not only were we faced with significant storm damage to our overhead network, but we had to deal with unprecedented damage to our connection to the national grid at Redclyffe, key lines and river crossings destroyed by flood waters, and flooded zone substations.

"From undertaking complex repairs like erecting river crossings, to tackling access and roading challenges, getting generators connected, reconnecting fibre, and working with Transpower to use emergency measures to bring power into the region, to supporting our communities and standing up a new depot, our team has done a remarkable job.

“We’re also incredibly grateful to our allies helping us get the work done, including Transpower, AoNet, Orion, WEL Networks, Horizon, NOW, Intergroup, local authorities, Civil Defence, Lifelines, Centralines, Linepower, iwi, teams from our Rotorua depot, and local communities,” says Mr Larkin

Further progress was made over the weekend with the restoration of the interconnector transformer and its control equipment at Redclyffe substation, allowing connection of the regional transmission network to the national grid again, increasing resilience, security of supply, and helping meet peak demand.

This is an important milestone in the repair of Transpower’s damaged Redclyffe substation, with further work ongoing to build additional resilience and security ahead of winter.  Work has also begun on how Transpower’s supply to the region and substation can be made resilient in the face of increasing damaging events. 

Unison says it is still some way off having supply fully restored, and the network repaired, to the state they were in prior to Cyclone Gabrielle. Currently generation is providing power to around 760 households that are unable to be reconnected to the network due to extensive cyclone damage, to meet their essential welfare needs.

“We continue to work as hard as possible to restore power to all remaining customers without power, and their welfare is paramount. We continue to meet with communities on the ground and our customer care team has been contacting customers directly to check on their wellbeing and update them on our plans and the progress being made,” says Mr Larkin.

“To assist those affected by the floods, Unison is arranging for electrical safety inspections of flood damaged properties so they can be reconnected to the network to help occupants and owners get on with the clean-up, repair and rebuild.”

Unison has firm plans in place for the extensive repairs still required to its network, which focus on restoring and supporting rural and isolated communities and those areas most affected, including Awatoto where access to the flooded substation has been restricted due to contamination.

Mr Larkin says, “We have a clear plan and understand what is required to fix the Awatoto substation, but we are realistic this work could take at least a month to complete. We hope to be able to provide a clearer timeline of the work that needs to be carried out once a full assessment of the damage and repairs needed has been made.”

“We continue to be amazed at the kindness and generosity shown to the Unison crews and teams by people across the Hawke’s Bay region. I want to reassure them that our team remains focused and fully committed to getting the lights on for every home and business in Hawke’s Bay.”

Some important key messages for the community are as follows:

  • For customers still without power who reside in an area that is now reconnected to Unison’s network (areas coloured green on Unison’s online restoration map), please check if there are lights on in your meter box.  If not, then you do not have power to your property. Please log a fault at www.unison.co.nz/outages. This will ensure Unison is aware of the issue and can make arrangements to assess and, where possible, restore power. We encourage customers to check in on any neighbours, whānau or friends who may still be without power and pass on this message.
  • As restoration is progressed, please assume all lines and assets are live. Due to flooding, ground contours have changed in many areas. Unison urges all contractors, farmers, orchardists, anyone working around electricity lines or using plant and machinery (e.g. diggers tip trucks, forklifts, etc) as part of the clean-up, to be aware and stay safe around electricity. Treat all lines as live, know what’s below, look up and live, and contact Unison for cable location services and safety permits.
  • Occasional outages to be expected over the coming weeks:

Customers may experience occasional outages over the next few weeks. These could be as short as 5-10 minutes but may last longer and may be more frequent at peak times. We urge customers to be prepared – guidance on preparation for outages can be found on Unison’s website at: Electricity outages - be prepared (unison.co.nz)

  • Hot water:
    All customers who reside in an area that is now reconnected to Unison’s network (areas coloured green on Unison’s online restoration map) should have their hot water back on. If a customer in these areas has no hot water, they should log a fault at www.unison.co.nz/outages. Customers in generated areas (areas coloured orange on Unison’s online restoration map) may have no or limited hot water, and we ask that they please bear with us while we work to get them fully reconnected.
  • Please respect and stay clear of Unison crews as they work

Unison crews are working hard to repair sections of the power network: Our crews, contractors and those of Transpower are working long hours in challenging and dangerous conditions to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. Many of them have also been impacted personally by Cyclone Gabrielle. Please keep your distance, and respect crews as they focus on completing repairs. 

  • During power outages, Unison regularly advises the following safety precautions:
  • Check for fallen or damaged electricity lines and treat lines as live at all times. Never touch wires or lines lying on the ground, hanging from poles, or objects such as tree branches that may be touching them. Fallen lines or wires may still be carrying an electrical current and could shock, injure or even kill if touched. Unison is urging anyone who sees a power line down to report these to www.unison.co.nz/outages
  • Turn off the power at the main switch if you suspect any electrical damage in your home. If the power goes out, turn off all electrical appliances to prevent possible damage by a power surge when the electricity supply is restored.
  • When the electricity network is damaged, it might take some time to get reconnected, so make sure you have a battery-operated radio, a torch, spare batteries, and a full gas bottle for your BBQ as part of your emergency kit.
  • Medically dependant customers are advised to prepare for the likelihood of no power and make alternative arrangements in advance.
Outages should be reported at www.unison.co.nz/outages in the first instance, as we are experiencing high call volumes through our call centre, which can still be used for those who do not have access to the internet - 0800 2 UNISON (0800 2 86476).
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