Too pricey to take power underground at iconic Queenstown entry

by Kim Bowden - Apr 18, 2024

Aurora Energy is defending its decision to not put cabling underground as it replaces a stretch of power lines along Ladies Mile, saying while underground services are more reliable they are also pricier.

A spokesperson for the lines company says "in this instance, it was more cost-effective to replace like-for-like".

"Undergrounding costs more than overhead power lines, and the cost ultimately ends up with customers.

"Customers have told us consistently that price management is important to them."

The response comes after members of the public have questioned why a forced shift of the power lines to make way for highway upgrades is not being taken as an opportunity to relocate the infrastructure out of sight on what is a main road entry point for Queenstown.

One resident spoken to by Crux, Brian Fitzpatrick, says while undergrounding may be more expensive, the visual amenity benefits make it worth doing - especially in important locations.

"As an adjoining land owner we dug the trench through Chard Farm ourselves recently so that Aurora would underground the cable there rather than install new lines on new poles."

Mr Fitzpatrick says the work was shared with their neighbour, and they would have loved to have continued it the rest of the way along the narrow section of the old Chard Road, but from an engineering perspective it was too mean a feat.

The Aurora Energy spokesperson says the company will put its assets underground when additional cost is met by the requesting party, but this was not the case along Ladies Mile.

The work now underway to replace the 11 kV lines along State Highway Six between Lake Hayes Estate and Ladies Mile is part of the company's five-year, $560-million investment programme.

The existing poles "have reached end of life", the spokesperson says.

"We took the opportunity to engage with NZTA to ensure our project aligned with the new roundabout (at Howard's Drive) and to undertake any enabling work, which will avoid potential additional work in the future."

Most of the poles will need to be shifted only within one metre of their existing locations within the road reserve.

Mr Fitzpatrick points out power lines further along the stretch of highway outside the Queenstown Country Club between Howard's Drive and Stalker Road are already out of sight, and he questions whether the adjacent property owner, the Queenstown Lakes District Council, which owns the former Walker residence at 516 Ladies Mile, was given the opportunity to contribute to the additional cost of continuing the infrastructure underground.

The Aurora Energy spokesperson says while both NZTA and QLDC were spoken with in regards to the work, neither made any request for the lines to go underground.

There are pros and cons to both options, in addition to price.

The spokesperson says with overhead power lines it is generally easier to pinpoint faults and fix them.

"Meaning if there are any issues power can be restored to customers faster for overhead lines than underground." 

But they admit things are more likely to go wrong with overhead lines.

"Underground networks are typically three to five times more reliable than overhead networks, with fewer outages."

In 2017, two possums were considered partly to blame for a winter power cut that stopped the Remarkables ski area from opening.

The lastest work along State Highway 6 by Aurora Energy is scheduled for completion on Tuesday (April 23).

Meanwhile the home at 516 Ladies Mile owned by the council has sat empty for a year and a half and is awaiting demolition after toxic mould was identified in the building by contractors.

Read more: Fencing prepares for power pole replacement on Ladies Mile

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