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Unison's history

Unison's history

With over 95 years in the constantly evolving and regulated electricity industry, the face of Unison has changed many times from our formation as The Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board in 1924.

Since our establishment, we have continued to build and maintain the electricity network servicing our regions of Hawke’s Bay, Taupō and Rotorua, while expanding our range of network services with the construction of an ultra-fast fibre optic telecommunications backbone, connecting our customers to the world.

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Join us as we trace our history through from the early days of electricity generation.

The beginning

In the very early days of electricity generation, the generation and supply of power was managed by Councils or Municipal departments.Our home town of Hastings first enjoyed the benefits of an electricity network in 1912, following the Hastings Borough Council’s construction of Power House in Eastbourne Street.

Following the Electric Power Boards Act 1918, the opportunity arose for Power Boards to produce, reticulate and sell power to those areas not supplied through the local government.

In 1923, a committee backed by Hawke’s Bay County initiated the formation of a Power Board to manage electricity distribution across the county. Both Napier and Hastings, self-sufficient in power generation for a decade, indicated they were ready to buy from the Board. The same was true for Havelock North Town Board and Taradale, which decided to align its interests with the Board. Adding to this, two freezing works consented to source their power from the Board too. These commitments secured a significant power load, leading to the establishment of The Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board (HBEPB) on 19 June 1924. Following that, on 27 September 1924 the first meeting of the HBEPB was held.

The HBEPB was formed to essentially provide electricity to the rural areas of the Hawke’s Bay County, as the urban areas of Napier, Taradale, Hastings and Havelock North already had their own supplies from their governing bodies.

By February 1927, the construction of supply to Pakowhai and Mangateretere was completed – the first rural areas to be reticulated.Three months later, the HBEPB purchased its first vehicle, buying a Ford half-ton truck for $318 - ‘for the use of the Foreman’ - who would have been earning around 19 cents an hour.

The growth of electricity supply


The HBEPB continued to grow its geographical foot print, purchasing the reticulation operations for town centres from the local governing body. The first to be taken over was Taradale in 1925, supplied by the Taradale Town Board, followed by the reticulation of Hastings on 1 October 1934. Two years later in 1936, the HBEPB also purchased the electrical plant and reticulation of the Havelock North Town Board. This continued expansion also meant the HBEPB required a larger depot, and a new site was purchased in Heretaunga Street East, and a new headquarters erected.


With all power for the region coming from a single point of supply at Redclyffe, by the early 1950’s growth in demand for electricity required the Government to build a second point of 20,000kVA supply at Fernhill to meet the increasing electricity needs of customers.


With continued growth came continued expansion, and in 1961 the field operations were moved to Parkvale, and a major extension added to the Heretaunga Street headquarters.A new supervisory control system was installed in 1966, enabling more sophisticated control of ‘load patterns’. By the late 1960s, demand for new connections had slowed, but there was increasing demand for underground installations in residential areas, and the HBEPB shifted focus from construction of new connections to the undergrounding of existing overhead supplies within the central town areas.


The 1990s was the period of most significant organisational change for the HBEPB. The first change came in November 1991 when the HBEPB finally purchased the electricity business, Bay City Power, operated by the Napier City Council.

The Energy Companies Act 1992 allowed for the corporatisation of the Electricity Boards, changing the ownership to one of shareholdings, with the option of vesting the shares into Trust ownership a most popular choice around New Zealand.

For the HBEPB, the Act resulted in the establishment the formation of Hawke’s Bay Power Distribution Limited and its subsidiary company, Hawke’s Bay Power Limited, both trading as Hawke’s Bay Power on 20 May 1993. All shares were vested in the Hawke’s Bay Power Consumers’ Trust (refer Trust Ownership section), ensuring continued “consumer ownership” of the Company and its distribution network.

But the structure of Hawke’s Bay Power was to change again, following the Electricity Industry Reform Act 1998. This Act required that one company could no longer both distribute and retail electricity, and so on 30 September 1998, the retail business of the Company was sold to Contact Energy Ltd. The name of the Company was subsequently changed to Hawke’s Bay Network Limited in January 1999.

2000 and beyond

On 1 October 2002, Hawke’s Bay Network Limited commenced a management services contract with electricity lines company Centralines Limited, based in Central Hawke’s Bay at Waipukurau. One month after taking on the Centralines management contract, Hawke’s Bay Network also acquired the Taupō and Rotorua electricity distribution assets of United Networks Limited and Vector Limited.

Unison Networks Limited (trading as Unison) came into being on 17 April 2003, when the Company changed its name. Unison was now the fourth largest electricity lines company in New Zealand.

The Company underwent a restructure in 2007, separating out its contracting services under a new subsidiary, Unison Contracting Services Limited (UCSL). Unison Networks Limited remained its number one customer and, in 2010, after the addition of vegetation and civil services to its portfolio, the subsidiary got its own brand.

In 2009, Unison branched out into fibre, with the establishment of subsidiary Unison Fibre Limited, trading as UnisonFibre. Fibre technology was to form the communications backbone for the Company’s vision of a ‘Smart Network’, and ultimately allowing the company to enter into the wholesale fibre market.

In the same year, Unison also purchased ETEL - New Zealand’s largest transformer manufacturing company, specialising in the design and manufacture of distribution transformers.

Trust ownership

Unison is 100% owned by the Hawke’s Bay Power Consumers’ Trust (HBPCT). HBPCT was formed in 1993 and is an elected body which acts on behalf of the consumer-owners of Unison. As a 100% consumer-trust owned company, the consumers in the Hawke’s Bay network region are the beneficial owners of the Company. The consumer-owners elect the Trustees every three years.

The HBPCT is governed by a Trust Deed, which sets out in detail the responsibilities and duties of the Trust and the Trustees.