NZ govt eyes power-saving measures after dry spell

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand could face electricity conservation measures in three weeks unless key hydro catchments get good rainfall, the government said on Tuesday.

Despite some voluntary scaling back of power usage by big business users, the key South Island hydro lakes remain very dry, Energy Minister David Parker said in a statement.

“Unless we have some increased inflows in the South Island hydro catchments in the next three weeks, further conservation measures will have to be looked at,” Parker said in a statement.

Parker said work was continuing on a range of contingency measures if rain did not appear, but did not detail any specific plans.

About two-thirds of New Zealand’s electricity comes from hydro power, with most of the major schemes located in the South Island.

New Zealand’s official level of hydro storage has already fallen into the “minzone”, a technical level where state agency The Electricity Commission considers conservation measures.

Last Wednesday, wholesale electricity market operator M-Co said New Zealand’s stored energy had fallen 8 percentage points over the previous week to be 60 percent of average.

Concerns over supply are putting upward pressure on prices, with prices at the North Island reference point of Haywards rising 30.6 percent last week to NZ$277.68 ($215.26) per megawatt hour.

Rio Tinto Ltd/Plc on May 16 said it would cut output by 10 percent at its Tiwai Point aluminum smelter. The smelter, in the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island, consumes about 15 percent of the country’s electricity. New Zealand’s last power crisis was in 2003, when an advertising campaign urged residential consumers to try and cut their electricity usage by 10 percent, alongside voluntary business cutbacks.

If the crisis had got worse, the government had planned to start cutting residential hot water supplies, followed by rolling power cuts for residential users, followed by widespread blackouts.

Reporting by Adrian Bathgate; Editing by James Thornhill