Company history

Electricity generation began in New Zealand in the late 19th century. The first public electricity supply started in 1887.

Christchurch first experienced electricity in the 1880s and in 1903 the Christchurch City Council established a small scale public supply. After the first month it had eight customers on its books; by the 1920s electricity was widely accepted.

Company beginnings

Orion's predecessor, Southpower, was established in 1989 as a joint venture between the Christchurch City Council (MED), the Central Canterbury Electric Power Board, Riccarton Electricity and the Port Hills Energy Authority.

As required by the Energy Companies Act 1992, ownership of Southpower was transferred to the three local authorities in its area of supply: Christchurch City Council (87.625%), Selwyn District Council (10.725%) and Banks Peninsula District Council (1.650%).

And on 1 April 1993 Southpower became Southpower Limited.

When it purchased a 69% shareholding in New Zealand energy company Enerco in 1993/94, the Southpower Group became one of the largest operators in the New Zealand energy sector.

Recent history

Government reforms have led to substantial changes to the company. These reforms are outlined below:

1998 - May

In May 1998, the Government announced electricity energy industry reforms which required New Zealand's 36 integrated electricity companies to:

  • functionally separate their electricity network and electricity retail businesses; and
  • divest either the network or retail businesses.

At that time, Canterbury energy company Southpower Limited operated the electricity network between the Waimakariri and the Rakaia Rivers, and operated the electricity retailing business. It owned 69% of the Auckland-based gas business, Enerco New Zealand. Enerco also operated a network and retail business.

1998 - September

Southpower elected to sell its electricity retail activities and retain the network business. Enerco also decided to take advantage of strong interest in its gas retail activities and prepared these for sale. Both companies conducted separate sale processes by competitive tender. Both the Southpower and Enerco brand names were part of the sale package.

1998 - December

Southpower's electricity retail activities, together with the brand name, were bought and transferred to TransAlta New Zealand Limited. The remainder of the company (comprising the Canterbury electricity network and shares in a number of investments - including Enerco) was renamed Orion New Zealand Limited.

Enerco's gas retail activities, together with the brand name, were bought by Contact Energy Limited. The remainder of the company (which comprised a number of gas networks) was renamed Qest New Zealand Limited.

1999 - March

Orion acquired all the outstanding shares in Qest (a Stock Exchange listed company) and delisted the company.  The Orion and Qest network businesses were amalgamated and managed from Orion's Christchurch head office.

2000 - April

The gas networks were sold to United Networks and Orion continues to manage the Christchurch based electricity network.

Read more about Orion in our information sheet (PDF).