Wind’s contribution to the country’s overall electricity demand is relatively small but its potential is huge.
Of the country’s 9900 megawatt capacity, the capacity of installed turbines, including small installations at Gebbies Pass and Southbridge, is 321.8MW.
Energy Minister David Parker told this week’s New Zealand Wind Energy Association (NZWEA) conference, however, that the country’s resources were world class and the cost of integrating wind into the national electricity grid was relatively low.
With Government encouragement, wind’s role is growing. Projects being built in Manawatu and Wellington will add 188MW. A further five consented wind farms could add 312MW. Applications are being considered for nine more projects which will lift the total by 1700MW.
There is more on the way, including a 50-turbine wind farm planned by Wind Prospect CWP (NZ) Ltd announced this month for 15km east of Wyndham, Southland.
Two of the South Island’s largest projects were granted consents last year but have been appealed to the Environment Court.
A hearing into TrustPower’s proposed 100-turbine wind farm at Lake Mahinerangi, 50km west of Dunedin, opens on Monday.
In mid-May, state power company Meridian will go before the court arguing for its controversial $1.5b wind farm, which would see 176 wind turbines built on the Lammermoor Range, 30km south of Ranfurly.
The latter hearing is expected to take six weeks and involve about 80 experts.
Rilke de Vos, who heads a National Institiute of Water and Atmospheric Research-led, $1.3 million research project into renewables called EnergyScape, describes New Zealand’s wind resource as exceptional.
He believes, in the short term, geothermal and hydro power are the most cost-effective options for electricity generation.
However, longer term, wind will prevail, he says.
Meridian Energy spokeswoman Claire Shaw says the scale, resource, topography, access and transmission of Project Hayes make it one of the best sites in New Zealand.
She says the company is very committed to the project but will not reveal how much it has spent because of commercial sensitivity.
Meridian has confirmed that more projects in Otago and Southland are being investigated.
TrustPower spokesman Graeme Purchas says his company plans wind farms carefully.
It only starts a project if the wind is good enough, there can be enough turbines built on the site for the project to be economic and it is close to transmission lines.
“We’re not interested in transporting power to the other end of the country. If we generate it near Dunedin, it will get used near Dunedin.”
Opponents are not satisfied.
One of the Upland Landscape Protection Society’s most prominent members, Central Otago artist Grahame Sydney, says the possibility the landscape will not be appreciated in the same way by later generations is upsetting and depressing.
“The pervasive cloud of threat that hangs over this landscape that I love so much, that so many of us love and think is important … is very real and it’s awfully troubling,” he says.
“It’s an awfully steep challenge, obviously, for a small group of committed members to stand up and oppose such a behemoth as Meridian, in this case, and TrustPower, which can apply immense resources to defending their position.”
He also fears the precedent of allowing such a large area to be “bulldozed” and “forested with turbines”, saying: “Central Otago is landscape.”
Power rival Contact Energy also has appealed TrustPower’s proposed 100-turbine wind farm at Lake Mahinerangi, 50km west of Dunedin, and Project Hayes.
It worries wind power will displace power from its hydro dams in Roxburgh and Clyde, and wants a condition from the Environment Court that the wind farms be built, hand in glove, with a transmission network upgrade.
“Being unable to generate very large, reliable generation is not in the company’s interests, and not in the country’s interests either,” Contact spokesman Jonathan Hill said.
By David Williams
12 April 2008
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