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New Zealand Power Co. Is Blamed

July 21, 1998

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) _ A power company did not take adequate measures to prevent a five-week blackout in Auckland and was using substandard electric cables, a government inquiry found.

The 110-kilovolt cables used by the company, Mercury, were below industry standards, according to an Energy Ministry report issued today. The lines were installed decades ago by Mercury’s predecessor, the Auckland Electric Power Board.

The first cable feeding the commercial heart of New Zealand’s biggest city failed on Jan. 22, and the three others went down in February.

The blackouts affected more than 8,500 downtown businesses employing almost 74,000 people. Thousands of residences also lost power.

Businesses estimated their collective losses at $50 million a week.

Mercury’s acting chief executive Patrick Strange said the company accepted the inquiry’s findings and was working to address the problems raised.

``It is not easy for us to swallow, but swallow it we will,″ he said.

The company earlier said it believed the successive failure of the four major supply cables was due to a combination of factors, triggered by record high temperatures and dry conditions. An emergency power network is now in operation.

Energy Minister Max Bradford, describing the report as a ``pretty damning″ critique, said Mercury had lost sight of its core business.

The report recommended Mercury establish a better management plan for its 110-kilovolt lines, and that it be subjected to periodic review from operators of similar lines.

It also recommended the company tighten its control of external contracting, and review its risk management standards.

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