Northpower Electric Power Trust empowers customers

By Lindy Laird

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Northpower is a multi-million company that also maintains power lines in Whangarei and Kaipara - above - and this month customers vote for trustees for the Northpower Electric Power Trust.
Northpower is a multi-million company that also maintains power lines in Whangarei and Kaipara - above - and this month customers vote for trustees for the Northpower Electric Power Trust.

An election underway in Whangarei and Kaipara doesn't have the thrust and parry of local government elections but it is all about power and money.

It is the Northpower Electric Power Trust election, where the consumers to whom the company supplies electricity vote for the trustees.

Unlike some electric power board trusts, Northpower, and the Far North company Top Energy as well, is overseen by a consumer trust representing its customers, not a community trust.

Northpower Trust holds all Northpower Ltd shares, appoints and monitors directors and approves the Northpower Group's audited accounts.

In other words, the trust watches over the board - which watches over Northpower's work and growth - and then ensures the customers get back a fair share of the profits.

Northpower Ltd, with a board of appointed directors, owns and manages the electricity lines network in Whangarei and Kaipara and also owns one of New Zealand's largest electricity distribution contracting business, with centres across the North Island.

The Northpower "Group'' includes Northpower Ltd, West Coast Energy and a 46 per cent investment in Northpower Fibre in which partners with the Crown. Northpower Trust has a governance rather than management role.

As with local body elections, the trustees can only act within the direction of the Trust Deed; election promises mean nothing once elected.

"Trustees are prohibited from management and must avoid being deemed as directors, they are trustees, but they must know what is going on and always act in the interests of the trust beneficiaries [customers]," Northpower communications manager Steve MacMillan said.

Five trustees are elected from Whangarei and two from Kaipara for a three-year term, the elections taking place shortly after the local authority elections.

The Trust Deed's legislative requirements include the trust ensuring Northpower "operates as a successful business while having regard, amongst other things, to the desirability of ensuring the efficient use of energy".

Since 1998, through its annual "line holiday", the trust has given back $110 million of profits earned from renting consumer-owned supply lines to electricity companies.

In 2017 the new trust will undertake a five-yearly ownership review to determine if the public want to retain the shares in Northpower or dispose of them.

That choice is ultimately made by the customers through a consultation process, and an overwhelming majority of consumer/beneficiaries would have to ask for change before it occurred. In the previous four ownership reviews, more than 95 per cent of submitters wanted to keep the present ownership model.

In 2016, trustees' honorariums ranged from the chairman's $49,011 to $26,500 for non-office holding trustees.

The Whangarei district candidates, from which five will be elected, are: Erc Angelo,
Warren Moyes, Murray Broadbelt, Ross Provan, Irene Durham, Bill Rossiter, Sue Glen,
Paul Yovich.

Incumbents for Kaipara, Richard Drake and Sheena McKenzie, have been re-elected unopposed.

Voting documents went out on October 28 and voting closes on November 19, with an online option as well as return by post or other delivery.

Northpower in numbers:

* Northpower Group's revenue in the 2015/16 year was $338 million.
* It's profit was $9.6m after paying the line holiday (shared among every consumer) of $4.2m. It declared a dividend of $5m.
* In that year, Northpower spent $29.585m on operations and $32.4m on investment flows (fixed assets, Northpower Fibre shares).
* Northpower's total assets are worth $455.701m (net assets $257.931m).
* The company's Board of Directors were paid $399,000, of which the chairman earned $114,000.
* 401 staff members were paid more than $100,000; 52 over $200,000; seven more than $300,000.

- Northern Advocate

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