TrustPower, New Zealand's fifth-largest electricity retailer has just reported its ninth straight year of improved operating earnings.

Despite intense competition in the retail environment, TrustPower managed to maintain 98 per cent of its market share by ICP and increased revenue by 1 per cent. While the company could have gone after more accounts by offering price discounts or the like, it believes this is not sustainable and a better strategy is to provide premium quality and consistent service.

The business, which supplies 220,000 mostly regional customers, attributes its success to the service it provides and its ability to stay connected with them. Internally, the company's set of core ‘PRiiDE' values: passion, respect, integrity, innovation, delivery and empowerment, underpins that focus. Engagement is not only encouraged with customers and shareholders but with all members of staff and the wider community.

Until recently TrustPower was the only retail company in New Zealand to have an in-house call centre and is one of the few to still employ its own meter readers. These measures keep the company in touch with its customers and allow it to better respond to their needs.

It also works to improve the benefits it can offer its customers, an increasing number of whom are signing up to the company's Kinect phone and internet service, which is only available on a household basis to TrustPower customers.

Offer Zone

In the past year, the Tauranga-based business also launched an online retail `Offer Zone', which allows its Bay of Plenty business customers to make exclusive offers to other TrustPower customers in the region. The scheme will be expanded nationwide.

And TrustPower customers seem to appreciate the service they are receiving, with the company achieving the highest rating of any of the major power companies in the September 2010 Consumer survey. It works hard to hear what its customers have to say, carrying out an annual performance monitor, post-call customer surveys and telecommunications customer surveys.

A key part of the company's business model is the operation of 36 hydro generation projects and two wind farms spread around the country. The assets, located near its customers, are efficient and also provide protection from regional climatic effects.

In the past year, TrustPower completed construction of a 9MW diesel-fired peaking plant at Bream Bay, gained resource consent for the Arnold and Wairau hydro projects and commissioned the first stage of the Mahinerangi wind farm ahead of schedule and under budget.

The wind project has been built to supplement supply from nearby hydro schemes and is embedded into the local network to avoid HVDC charges. The peaker will protect the company from exposure to high price spikes in the upper north island.

Hydro consents

TrustPower considers the completion of consenting for both the Arnold and Wairau projects last year a testament to the comprehensive planning and consultation it carried out. They are the first large hydro consents granted since the introduction of the Resource Management Act in 1992.

But the company's focus on efficiency and innovation has also seen continued investment within the existing generation fleet.

During the past year, TrustPower installed pumps at its 66-year-old Highbank power station in Canterbury as part of an expansion of regional irrigation system. The work avoided the need to construct a second pipeline, improving the viability of the project and the yield from the existing power station assets.

Using new efficiency testing models, coupled with local turbine design and manufacture, the company was able to lower the cost of performance improvements at its Cobb power station in Canterbury and its Motukawa project in Taranaki. Including a reduction in downtime, the work improved the efficiency of Motukawa by 17 per cent.

Being locally involved nationwide underpins TrustPower's goal of maximising positive environmental contributions while minimising negative impacts. Its generation unit reuses materials wherever possible and seeks to design-in improvements where it can.

One example saw the company improve the fish trapping and transfer programme at its Patea hydro scheme as part of the re-consenting for the development. Trapping now takes place 10 months a year, from four months previously, and includes a broader range of native species to improve the biodiversity of the catchment.

The importance the company places on that community connection is reflected in a range of initiatives including the TrustPower Community Awards and Youth Spirit Awards, the TrustPower Lend a Hand Foundation and the Community Connect website - TrustPower's national online information, training and networking resource for voluntary organisations.

In 2011 the Overall Energy Company of the Year category was sponsored by Port Taranaki.