Thieves brave 220k volts for copper
Trust Power's Tararua Windfarm near Palmerston North.
Photo / Dean Purcell
Brazen but brainless thieves have risked their lives by breaking into a Manawatu wind farm switch yard in an apparent attempt to steal copper wire.
Thirty-one turbines were shut down at TrustPower's Tararua wind farm about 2am yesterday after thieves cut through a wire fence, drained transformer coolant oil and dug up copper wire bands. The loss of coolant triggered alarms which shut the turbines down.
The offenders were lucky to survive their break in, TrustPower spokesman Graeme Purches told NZPA.
"Whoever did this, they must have been seriously seeking to raise the IQ of the whole nation.
"People don't go into switch yards. Switch yards are very dangerous places, there's high voltage, there's magnetic fields, everything."
There was a risk of fire, as well as electrocution, with the 220,000 volt transformers, he said.
"That sort of voltage travels long distances if you look like you are a likely conductor.
"Not only had they dug up copper cables, not knowing what they were doing, but they drained the oil from two transformers. We are talking 20,000 litres of cooling oil."
The oil had been contained in the area and now TrustPower faced the cost of cleaning up the area and replacing the oil and stolen copper.
The 31 turbines, capable of producing 93 megawatts, would be out until late tomorrow, which meant about TrustPower lost 30 hours, or about $220,000, of electricity generation.
Mr Purches said it was unlikely to be a protest against the windfarm, which had been there for at least 10 years.
"Much as we dislike protests against wind farms, protestors generally have a skerrick of intelligence."
Video surveillance normally wasn't needed at switch yards but the site now had permanent security and TrustPower was reviewing its security at other sites, he said.
Police were still making inquiries into the theft.
Constable Darrell Cowan, of Ashhurst police, said it was the first scrap metal theft in the Ashhurst area for a long time, and may have been opportunistic.
He struggled to politely describe the stupidity of breaking into such a high voltage area, but eventually settled with "an unwise decision by some needy people".