Unison's award-winning Windsor Substation

Unison Networks, Hawke’s Bay’s electricity distributor, has reported a strong financial performance for the 2021/2022 financial year, despite lost productivity from pandemic disruption.

Unison made a net profit after tax of $32.1 million in the financial year ending March 2022, down from $33 million the previous year. 

A dividend of $15.8 million will be paid to the Hawke’s Bay Power Consumer’s Trust on behalf of consumers connected to its network, on August 4. The Trust will determine the dollar value of its consumer dividend at its August 8 meeting, but information now on the Trust’s website indicates eligible households might expect to receive a $230 dividend, same as last year.

Regulated line revenue was $138 million and Unison spent $62.4 million on the replacement and expansion of its network assets to support continued growth in the residential and commercial sectors. Unison connected more than 1000 new customers in the last year, most of which were in retirement villages and residential subdivision connections

Unison Networks is New Zealand’s fifth largest electricity network, supplying over 110,000 customers across Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua and Taupō. 

In its annual report published on July 28, Unison declared that it did not meet all of its financial or network performance targets, but noted the more difficult than usual trading environment. Thousands of Unison customers were affected by Transpower grid emergency events in August last year, due to insufficient generation and record demand.

In a press release, chairman Phillip Hocquard noted: “Many people in our communities are facing significant, day to day pressure as the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, cost of living and global events continue to affect us locally.

“While it is essential that Unison continues to invest in assets at the right time, the Company has a clear eye on how this might impact consumers and is placing priority on striking the right balance between affordability, investment, performance and environmental impact.”  

The Commerce Commission has now commenced its review of the rules that underpin how much revenue power generators and networks can earn. Over the next two years the sector will work with the commission to develop pricing rules that balance affordability with infrastructure investment. 

Despite the significant demands and changes facing the sector, chief executive Ken Sutherland said Unison was well placed to continue delivering electricity to Hawke’s Bay consumers in the future.

Extra borrowing of $35 million was used to increase inventory to secure materials supply to mitigate against potential supply chain disruption and to replace and expand Unison’s electricity network assets.

Sustainability focus

In June, Unison was named the winner of the Low Carbon Future Award at the New Zealand Energy Excellence Awards for its pioneering sustainability work on the recently operational Windsor Substation, located in Parkvale, Hastings. The significant sustainability features of Windsor Substation include:

  • A 363% reduction in carbon compared to a typical substation;
  • Solar energy powered, with excess energy sent back to the grid;
  • Captures and recycles water;
  • Constructed using locally sourced, repurposed and environmentally friendly materials;
  • Native habitat established.

Delivering smart energy solutions and a dynamic and flexible electricity system is a key priority for Unison. Sutherland noted the last financial year was used strategically to develop the company’s sustainability strategy, and its role in assisting a transition to a zero-carbon future in areas such as transport, industrial heat and housing.

“The Company is now realising the benefits of forward planning and preparation for this transformation. The interplay between Unison Networks and its subsidiaries demonstrates the power of the Unison Group to design, construct and service networks of the future, with sustainability at the core.” 

Its new focus on the sustainable energy sector will see Unison investing in adjacent and unregulated businesses that align with its vision, as part of its revised strategy for growth, investment and innovation. Unregulated businesses are where Unison can grow its revenue and profit potential.

For example, the last financial year saw Unison invest in the launch of small power transformers at ETEL, which specialises in assessing, maintaining, repairing and refurbishing distribution transformers, motor and generator rewind and overhauls.

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