RAROTONGA MAY FACE POWER BLACKOUTS

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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (August 31 2001 – Cook Islands News)---One of Rarotonga’s two power generators is literally cracking up and an extended power blackout, which would bring the island and economy to a standstill, could possibly happen.

Government believes one of the generators, bought with NZ$ 14.5 million (US$ 6,275,919) borrowed from the French government in 1991, to be faulty. The French-made generators have given Te Aponga Uira problems almost from the day they were turned on in 1992.

Now Te Aponga Uira is threatening to sue Wartsila, the French suppliers, if the matter can’t be resolved by negotiation.

Financial Secretary Kevin Carr was brought in to assist Te Aponga Uira in July this year with negotiations. Carr has taken a tough, no-nonsense approach. "If we’re going to make threats, we must be prepared to carry them out," he says.

Carr says he asked Finance Minister Dr Terepai Maoate to increase the contingency fund by NZ$ 250,000 (US$ 108,206) in the event that Wartsila doesn’t cooperate and government is forced to sue.

Carr says although litigation would be expensive, Wartsila had to be made to realize that Te Aponga Uira is serious about taking legal action.

"As a result of that, they have come back with a possible solution, which is now being evaluated by Te Aponga."

Details of a "possible solution" weren’t available from Te Aponga yesterday as chief executive officer Apii Timote was home sick. It’s understood that Te Aponga isn’t entirely satisfied with the compromise offered by Wartsila.

Sources say water has leaked into the pistons through cracks. Each time this has happened to the generator, it has had to be turned off. If a failure in the good generator occurred at the same time as a leak in the faulty one, then both would have to be turned off leaving Rarotonga with insufficient generating capacity to meet all demands. It is likely that there would be partial shutdowns or rolling blackouts as a result.

A specialized welder has had to be flown in by Te Aponga from New Zealand each time the cracks have become big enough to allow water to seep into the generators. "If both engines break down, that would mean power cuts and that’s not good for our reputation as a tourist destination," says Kevin Carr.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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