Transpower achieved several key milestones in the past year marking the company’s transformation as the operator of a more flexible and responsive national grid.

The company has been working over the past five years to develop a grid better suited to delivering electricity from more variable and widespread renewable generation while also enabling greater demand-side participation in the industry.

In the past year the company commissioned two of four major projects underway – the North Island Grid Upgrade and the new Pole 3 expansion of the HVDC link. These projects are among some 170  transmission upgrades that the company has planned or underway.

Both projects relied on innovative systems to minimise cost, the impact on neighbours and landowners, and the interruption of essential power supplies.

Project innovations

The $672 million construction of Pole 3 saw a new 700 MW thyristor valve unit installed to replace the decommissioned Pole 1 and restore HVDC transfer capacity to 1,000 MW both northward and southward.

The project was commissioned under budget and in time for winter in late May 2013 after months of testing  `in the market’ - a world first. Contracting with generators to have the pole commissioned within the live electricity market reflects the confidence the industry had in Transpower’s risk management capabilities.

NIGUP was the first 400 kV- capable overhead transmission line designed and built in New Zealand. The project involved the construction of a 186-kilometre transmission line from South Auckland to Whakamaru spread across 426 tower sites.

The work required access to 318 properties and Transpower successfully negotiated easements for every one. Environmental mitigation was required on about 800 properties under a landscape mitigation planting programme. And in terms of health and safety, just two lost-time injuries were reported throughout a project where an average 57,000 man hours were worked every month.

Cultural change

Transpower says the processes developed within these projects are examples of the change in culture within the company from ‘this is the way things have always been done’ to one that fosters innovation and development, encourages superior customer service, respects people affected by works and recognizes the need for new ideas and new ways of doing business.

Transpower says the new approach reflects the direction offered by Transmission Tomorrow, the company’s forward view of the need for the enduring grid. It is already delivering other long-term benefits.

With the peak of the firm’s capex programme now behind it, the company last year paid a $315 million dividend to its Crown shareholder, the first in six years.

Customer satisfaction rates are up to 85 per cent, from 68 per cent in 2007. And after recognising a change in safety culture was needed in 2005/2006, the company has continued to drive its injury rates lower.

Transpower has improved its ranking on the DuPont Safety Culture Indicator from ‘reactive’, to ‘independent’ this year – reflecting a strong feeling of personal ownership and commitment to safety among individual staff.

The Overall Energy Company of the Year category is sponsored by Port Taranaki.