Meridian suffers low South Is wholesale prices in Dec quarter

Meridian Energy achieved barely half the average price for wholesale electricity as Auckland-based competitor Mighty River Power, the state-owned power company's update for the December quarter shows.

The average price per megawatt hour per customer for Meridian over the three months was $31.21 per megawatt hour, while MRP says in its quarterly update earlier this week it has outperformed the market and achieved an average price of $66.25 per MWh.

Both state-owned generator-retailers are slated for partial privatisation, possibly both this year. The timing depends on the outcome of a Supreme Court hearing that wraps up in Wellington today, in which the Maori Council is seeking to block the sales.

While both are large-scale hydro generators, Meridian's assets are in the South Island while MRP's are all on the Waikato River, fed by Lake Taupo. During the period, South Island catchments were at times full to overflowing, while Taupo was never as full, suggesting some explanation for better prices from North Island hydro assets.

Meridian also suffered 20 days in the quarter when work on upgrading the high-voltage direct current link across Cook Strait had caused "periods of high price separation between the North and South Islands".

Price separation is where the national wholesale market for electricity is broken in two by constraints on the link between the two islands. Completion of the $672 million Transpower upgrade been delayed twice. It is now expected to commission in late April.

The commentary confirms Meridian is one of the few participants in the wholesale electricity market pleased with an unexpectedly radical solution from the Electricity Authority to redistribute the costs of the national grid among users.

"Meridian is particularly pleased that the EA's analysis supports a change to pricing for the HVDC link."

The existing charging regime loads the whole cost of the north-south link on southern generators, even though northern generators get benefit from it.

In the same quarter a year earlier, Meridian's average price per MWh ran at $60.88.

Total customer numbers at 284,673 were steady, and retail churn is dropping at around 18 percent.

Meridian also confirmed it is considering the future of its $A500 million investment in the Macarthur wind farm in a joint venture in Victoria, Australia.

The bond-like structure of the arrangement could make it profitable for Meridian to exit while interest rates are low. However, "no decision is imminent", the company says.

(BusinessDesk)

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