By Carly Udy and Rebecca McLean
Businesses came to an expensive four-hour standstill as 38,000 consumers across the Western Bay suffered a major power cut yesterday.
Power supply was interrupted just before 12.30pm in Tauranga city, Mount Maunganui, Te Puke and Papamoa because of a fault on Transpower's network.
The cut forced business owners to close their doors to trade, and some to throw out prepared food. It also affected thousands of households.
To compound matters, ATM and eftpos machines also went off line in the affected areas, leaving many shoppers with no way of paying for anything.
Transpower advised lines company Powerco of the grid emergency at 12.25pm following a fault that occurred at Transpower's Tarukenga substation, near Rotorua.
Chris Roberts, Transpower's communications manager, said workers were carrying out work on a transformer, which was off-line for routine maintenance, when an equipment fault occurred that disconnected the remaining transformer. That cut the main power supply to the Western Bay of Plenty.
Mr Roberts said workers on site had to quickly get the first transformer back into service to restore power, before turning their attention to the transformer that caused the power cut.
Powerco network operations manager Ross Dixon said the firm activated its emergency response plan and began to reduce electricity consumption in Tauranga by controlling hot water supplies.
However, the reductions were not sufficient and a power failure occurred affecting about 38,000 consumers in Te Puke, Mount Maunganui and Tauranga, Mr Dixon said.
As power workers scrambled to work out what was wrong, hundreds of people were left to take an impromptu three-hour break.
The lunch-time power cut resulted in a loss of business and increased food wastage for Mount Maunganui cafe and restaurant owners.
Greg Shawer, owner of Jett Cafe, said he expected to lose 60 per cent of normal day's turnover and had no choice but to close his cafe for the rest of the day. "Without a coffee machine, fryers and a griller, there isn't much I can sell," he said.
Mr Shaw said he had turned away about 30 customers.
"It's very annoying."
Kwangchow Chinese restaurant owner Helen Lim said she expected to lose hundreds of dollars worth of food.
"We serve our food through smorgasbord and we rely on heated lamps and boiling water to keep it warm. Once it is cold, we will have to throw it all out," she said.
Mrs Lim said she had no choice but to offer discounts to her customers.
Eftpos was also down, leaving shopowners frustrated.
"Most customers don't have cash. I've had to let customers give me their word that they will return to pay later today,"she said.
With ATMs and eftpos unavailable, some shop owners had to put through credit card transactions manually.
Joy Johnson of Just 4 Fun said the manual credit card system was a hassle and took time to process.
"It's a pain because we have to send away our dockets, and transactions could take weeks to process," she said.
Colin Drevder, owner of Col's Butchery, used cash from his wallet to serve what customers he could.
"I can't get the till open with no power, I have no eftpos and I can't weigh anything, there is only a minimal amount I can sell," he said.
Mr Drevder had 10 chickens cooking when the power went out.
"It looks like I'm going to have to throw them all out - people have pre-ordered those chickens," he said.
Mr Drevder said he expected to lose a few hundred dollars.
All four theatres were in operation when the power went out at Mount Maunganui's Cinema 4.
Baidan Thomas, of Cinema 4, said about 70 movie-watchers had their film cut short. "We had a group of about 40 elderly in one session and about 10 in the others, lucky for us they were very co-operative," he said.
All movie-goers were given complementary passes. Emergency lights, run on batteries, helped guide movie-goers safely out of the building.
Karen Abbott of Te Puke Seafoods said the power cut annoyed her "big time".
"We were halfway through cooking meals when it went off. We couldn't use scales, we couldn't open tills, it just throws you completely."
It's the second time in a fortnight that power has been disrupted to 5000 consumers in the wider Te Puke area.
Ngaire Llewell, owner of Te Puke's World of Taste cafe, said the power in her shop went off about 12.15pm.
"It's very frustrating - right on lunch hour. We can't heat food, can't make coffees ... but I guess I can't gripe about it, it's one of those things."
Shaza Whitaker, of Pukehina Local Bar and Restaurant, had just finished cooking a lunchtime meal when the power went dead.
Business owners weren't the only ones experiencing the effects of the power cut.
Sam and Barbara Johnston had come into Mount Maunganui's shopping area for lunch and some shopping - they were disappointed when they could do neither.
"We came in for lunch but cafes have stopped serving hot food and coffee, I've got 60 cents in my wallet and eftpos is down, so what can we do? It's very disappointing," said Mr Johnston.
Powerco restored supply to Tauranga Hospital - which has backup generators - by 12.50pm and partially restore supply in the other city areas by 1pm.