The Makara wind farm near Wellington will be smaller and about $80 million cheaper than expected, with work on the $430 million project to start next month.
However, Meridian chief executive Keith Turner said rising costs and a lower exchange rate earlier in the year came close to ending “West Wind”.
Only a recent spike in the currency, cutting the cost of imported turbines, saved the project.
“We have been incredibly lucky. The exchange rate peaked about the time the board gave me the (final) decision,” he said yesterday.
In May, the Environment Court knocked out four of the 70 turbines originally planned and yesterday Meridian itself dropped a further four because the sites were too turbulent and could have worn out the machines quickly.
The turbines will be 111 metres high, just slightly more than the State Insurance Building, one of Wellington’s tallest buildings, and are expected to produce power by 2009.
The original plan proposed turbines that were 125m high.
The project has faced strong opposition from people living near the planned site.
They were concerned about the size and noise of the turbines, some less than 1km from houses.
Makara/Ohariu community board chair Ruth Paul said last night she was not surprised Meridian had decided to go ahead, but people remained concerned about the expected noise from the turbines.
“The dice has fallen and people are getting on with their lives,” she said.
If the latest four turbines to go were on the coast, that would please people concerned about the impact on local walkways.
The community had “bitten the bullet” on the project and she did not expect any protests or barricades when work started.
State-owned Meridian chose the area because the company believes it will make the “world’s best wind farm”.
Long delays in getting approval for the project meant the price ballooned by about $120 million to $500 million, according to Meridian estimates earlier this year, leaving the wind farm only marginally viable.
The cost has been cut in part because it will have eight fewer turbines, and also because Meridian locked in a high exchange rate recently, though contracts have not yet been signed with turbine firm Siemens.
Dr Turner said yesterday that the project would start late next month, with a peak workforce of 150 people on site.
At the peak of construction, a truck would pass through Karori and along Makara Rd every six minutes or so, according to opponents at earlier resource consent hearings.
However, Meridian said yesterday it would add only 40 trucks a day and possibly fewer, to the existing 700 truck movements a day on Karori Rd.
Large pieces of equipment, including the turbines, will be taken by barge to Makara, landing at Oteranga Bay on the south coast.
By James Weir
The Dominion Post
16 August 2007
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