TEXT-NZ's Contact Energy to fire up New Plymouth station

(The following statement was released by the company)

WELLINGTON, May 28 - Contact Energy announced today that it intends to recommission one 100 megawatt gas-fired generator unit at its mothballed New Plymouth power station, in response to tight electricity supply conditions resulting from very low hydro lake storage levels and increasing winter electricity demand.

The New Plymouth power station was closed in December 2007 following the discovery of asbestos in areas not detailed in the power station’s asbestos register.

Contact Chief Executive, David Baldwin, said the company has been looking at innovative ways it could make a meaningful contribution to meeting winter peak demand at a time when hydro storage levels are very low. The opportunity has arisen where one unit at New Plymouth could be recommissioned and operated across the coldest weeks of this winter, without compromising safety.

“The safety of our people is Contact’s absolute priority. Some Contact staff are already working in the containment area as part of the asbestos removal project, and every person involved in recommissioning and operating this unit will have the same level of protection as those involved in the asbestos removal programme.”

Staff working inside the containment area of the power station will be protected through wearing the required personal protective equipment specified in the Department of Labour’s Asbestos Management and Removal Guidelines. This includes head-to-toe overalls, full-face powered respirators and gloves. There are full wash-down decontamination processes for all staff exiting the asbestos containment area.

Contact has discussed the recommissioning project with the Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Service, which is satisfied with the steps Contact has in place to ensure staff safety.

Mr Baldwin said there was a great deal of work required to recommission the unit, but Contact was confident that the unit would be able to return to service in early June.

“While electricity supply will remain tight, an additional 100 megawatts of electricity will make an important contribution to meeting peak demand over the winter,” he said.

A number of staff have returned from assignments at other Contact sites to operate the unit across the high demand winter period.