Wellington Scoop

Do they care about Lower Cuba Street in Hong Kong?

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The retailers in Lower Cuba Street whose electricity was cut off yesterday morning won’t want to be reminded of the strange fact that our city’s electricity company is 100 per cent owned by two companies in Hong Kong.

Cheung Kong Infrastructure Ltd and Power Assets Holding limited together own 100 per cent of Wellington Electricity, the company which pulled the plug yesterday. Both are members of the Cheung Kong group of companies and are listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The group includes nine listed companies with a combined market capitalisation of HK$600 billion.

Cuba Street retailers are also not likely to be consoled by a message on the website of the Wellington electricity company:

As your electricity distributor, Wellington Electricity is responsible for the performance of the local electricity network and for responding to any problems that may occur. No electricity system is 100 per cent reliable and no electricity distributor can guarantee you an uninterrupted supply – some outages are unavoidable as portions of our network are exposed to events beyond our reasonable control, like storms and car accidents. The cost of 100 per cent reliability would be far beyond what you might reasonably be expected to pay. For some customers, a short power outage may be a mere inconvenience. For others, an interruption may cause commercial losses. We will respond as quickly as possible to fix any supply problems, but it is important that you understand and consider the level of risk associated with an occasional interruption to your electricity supply….In case of a Power Outage in your area, please call your electricity retailer.

And more

There are two types of power outages which can affect the Wellington Electricity network and interrupt customers’ supply: planned outages and unplanned outages. A planned outage occurs when electrical lines or equipment have to be temporarily taken out of service for repair or to allow network maintenance, alterations or augmentation. Unless undertaken in an emergency situation, a planned outage will be scheduled in advance, and affected customers will be made aware of the outage before it occurs. Every effort is made to undertake planned outages during times which will least inconvenience customers, but in some instances this is not always possible….

It seems to have been a planned outage yesterday. But the DomPost reports that businesses weren’t notified. And almost all of them were forced to close, on one of the busiest days of the week.

The five-hour power cut was described by David Blackmore, landlord of the James Smith complex, as being caused by “the mind-numbing stupidity of some moron at the power company”.

The company doesn’t have a good record of communication with Wellingtonians. There’s nothing on its website about yesterday’s issues. And according to the DomPost’s report this morning, the company’s spokesman – who’s blaming the power retailers – is based in Australia. Which seems to be a crazy situation.

There were also communications problems with the electricity company during last June’s storms. It seems to have been another communications failure in Lower Cuba Street yesterday.

How did it happen that Wellington’s electricity company was sold to owners in Hong Kong?

Till the last decade of the 20th century, the Wellington City Council owned its own electricity department. But in 1992 the council decided to sell the company. Canadian-owned TransAlta first acquired 49 per cent (when Fran Wilde was mayor) and bought the remaining 51 per cent (during the Blumsky mayoralty.) The Canadians onsold the company in 1998 to a Kansas banking group, and the Americans sold it to Vector in 2003. In July 2008, the network was sold to its present Hong Kong owners.

As Sue Kedgley has told us, the chairman of the Hong Kong companies is one of the richest and most powerful men in Asia – Li Ka-shing. According to Forbes magazine, he is the ninth richest man on Earth, and has an estimated wealth of $31 billion. He’s probably not giving any attention to the dissatisfactions of his customers in Wellington.

Too late: Wellington Electricity apologises


  1. Traveller, 27. January 2014, 10:09

    There’s no address for Wellington Electricity on its website. Does it really exist somewhere in the city?

  2. Carol Thomas, 28. January 2014, 7:05

    Neither will Hong Kong businessmen give a volt about our waving wires in upper Newlands, where the whole package should be underground. Business and economics and profit – offshore. Aint that grand.

  3. lindsay, 28. January 2014, 8:59

    Waving wires are an issue in Brooklyn too. Servicemen dealing with recurring problems keep agreeing that all the wires should be underground where they’d be protected from gales and rain. This is what’s done in new subdivisions. It needs to be done in the most exposed older-established streets too. But there’s no sign that the ninth richest man in the world wants to pay for it. Or has no one asked him?

  4. Pauline, 28. January 2014, 10:33

    Last year in our suburb we had street lights out for several days and when I rang the council I was told they would have to ring Auckland (!) who no doubt had to ring Hong Kong.

    The lights eventually came back on, in fact they were then on day and night, so it was back to the council. The officer concerned was very good and sent me a lengthy email explaining all the problems and the last paragraph said it all. “We are working with Wellington Electricity to identify persistent local issues and carry out repairs to the network rather than temporary fixes and to identify areas that need cable upgrades and/or renewal. Wellington Electricity does have a long term commitment for improvements. We are working through a large project to condition grade all our street lighting assets and to build a better renewal programme. This will provide better maintenance programme which in turn delivers the desired target in our 10 year Community plan for reliable working streetlights”.

    However, like the outsourcing of the maintenance of grass verges, play areas, banks, cleaning the gutters and drains of leaves, clay slips, etc the basics we expect as ratepayers appear to be very low on the agenda…. I can only say bring back Citi Ops and the old Municipal Electricity Company.

  5. Henry Bob Russell, 28. January 2014, 21:29

    Mr Li Cashing has not paid any corporate tax on his debt ridden Welliington electricity lines company since 2008. The new communist rich from China are still learning about corporate tax. No doubt once they catch on they will chip in with a dollar here or there as a nice little friendly gesture.

    NZ need not feel bad since Li has not paid much to the ATO in Mildura either.

  6. Graeme Buckley, 29. January 2014, 10:10

    We used to have a boring Civil Service Department of Electricity run by boring engineers. The guy in charge ran it for a salary that would probably be about $200K in todays money. They just concentrated on maintaining supply and balancing hydro and thermal sources to minimise overall costs. Then we got the Labour free market loonies and Max Bradford’s pretend companies. The heads of these pretend companies paid themselves vast salaries, needed large spin departments, huge advertising budgets, and business plans copied from Enron. The prices skyrocket, to the lies of the politicians and spin doctors, and we have the uncertainty if they will run the lakes dry each year. Aren’t we lucky we’re free of the the Public Servants running electricity?

  7. NigelTwo, 29. January 2014, 15:03

    I suppose we should all be grateful they didn’t sell off the water supply too.

  8. Kent Duston, 29. January 2014, 17:04

    I had some dealings with Wellington Electricity when we added PV panels to the roof of our house. Rather than sending us a letter explaining what we needed to do to connect the panels to the grid, or a brochure outlining our obligations when connecting to the network, their first way of making contact was to send an invoice.

    When I queried the invoice, I was told by their call centre that the accounts department were all based in Australia, did not have a phone number, and would only respond to queries via email. Which they did …. eventually, noting that “Wellington Electricity did not intend for this to be a surprise and acknowledge that an accompanying letter would have been more helpful.”

    Clearly, their communications skills have not improved in the last 12 months.

    I’ve always found that the best way to say “we value your business” is to adopt the unsolicited invoicing tactics beloved of internet scammers. So perhaps their way of saying “we value being part of the Wellington community” is to cut off the power to downtown retailers.

  9. Neil Douglas, 29. January 2014, 17:48

    Graeme – you should be running the country but I guess you don’t have a PR department, a communications team and a spin doctor to get yourself noticed.

  10. Phil C, 30. January 2014, 1:26

    I see Bradford, the beancounter who gave NZ more power companies per capita than any other nation in the world, has trotted off from buggering up essential services in NZ to bugger up other countries via consultancies relating to “energy reform” and “governance”. He won’t be the only free market cowboy from Labour or National to do so (where is Ruth these days?)

    Amazing that people still pay these people considering the track record in screwing a small South Pacific island nation and hocking it off to foreign powers. In any other country they’d need one hell of a security contingent to safely walk the streets.

  11. Shane R, 3. October 2015, 9:00

    There’s more detail to the diagram that shows how crazy the distribution of electricity has become. The power meters in each home are owned by separate companies. When there’s a fault (involving the meter), the consumer calls their power company who then raises a fault call to the meter owner who then passes the call to an electrical engineering firms specialising in meters who may pass on to a subcontracting sparky who comes to the home. When you consider that the lines companies also use numerous sub contractor firms, it’s very difficult to see how the whole process can be efficient when each entity involved in the chain adds a margin for profit. Basically a market forces dream gone bad