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Transpower reveals why pylon fell, causing major Northland outage

Jun 25, 2024

Transpower crews working at dawn on 21 June, preparing to install a temporary tower after a fallen pylon cut power to thousands of Northland properties. Photo: Transpower

A power pylon that fell last Thursday, cutting power to most of Northland was due to contractors removing too many nuts from bolts connecting the tower to a base plate, Transpower chief executive Alison Andrew says.

This occurred during routine maintenance by Omexom on the transmission tower and its baseplate near Glorit, north of Auckland, but which was not to procedure, she said.

"Our view is that the specifications in procedures for this type of work were not followed. All the nuts securing the tower to the base plate on three legs have been removed, which caused the tower to lift off the base plate and fall.

"It is unprecedented and inconceivable that so many nuts were removed at once."

The collapse cut power to 100,000 properties and was "completely unacceptable", the government said.

Andrew said while Transpower was grateful no one was hurt, the failure to follow procedure had a significant impact on the people of Northland.

An external party would conduct an independent investigation.

"The ongoing investigation will look at in much more detail what happened and why the correct procedures were not followed. We are committed to learning from this event and implementing any additional controls that may be identified," Andrew said.

Transpower spent about $150 to 200 million a year maintaining towers across the country, she said.

"We would do about 200 base plate repairs, maintenance every year and we have not had an incident like this in living memory."

All base plate work has stopped across the country, she said.

Not normal procedure

Transpower executive general manager grid delivery Mark Ryall said any work that was more than "removing one bolt" needed an engineering review. He said he was "confident" in the reviews so far.

The base plate is where the tower steel connected into the tower foundations, he said.

"There's some bolts that come up through the foundations and at that point the base plate is the interface and it has nuts on top of that," he said.

Maintenance work included keeping the base plate in good condition, ensuring that along with the bolts, there was no corrosion between the base plate and foundation, said Ryall.

A recent audit done showed no issues, he said.

Omexom NZ managing director Mornez Green said the company had "more than 25 years with experience working on and building transmission line powers with and for Transpower".

"What happened last week was unprecedented. As part of routine maintenance base plate and the nuts securing the tower to the foundation were removed, cleaned and treated by Omexon staff. During this work, too many nuts were removed. And the tower fell over on its side. The fallen tower caused the power outage. Omexon promptly activated its emergency response to restore the power to what had become a very complex site."

Transpower crews prepare to install a temporary pylon tower on 21 June, 2024, after another fell and cut power to thousands of Northland properties. Photo: Transpower

Green confirmed removing all those nuts was not normal procedure.

Andrew said the investigation needed to be fair and it was "far too early" to talk about discipline.

The contracting crew doing the work on Thursday when the pylon fell was stood down immediately, but were still being paid, said Green.

He confirmed there were normally three people working on a contracting team: a senior supervisor and two assistants.

The leader was a qualified transmission line mechanic, and contractors went through an in-house training session and had to be deemed competent before they are allowed to do work, said Green.

Omexom would be "open and transparent with all parties involved" in the investigations, he said.

He personally apologised to "all people affected by this incident".

WorkSafe was also investigating the incident.

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