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Transmission upgrade might not accommodate all wind farms

The variant nature of wind energy generation could be costly to power users, and it is possible a $100 million transmission upgrade will not accommodate all wind farms currently proposed, an Environment Court appeal hearing was told yesterday.

Upland Landscape Protection Society counsel Nick Russell, of Wellington, told the Project Hayes hearing in Cromwell constant variations in wind energy generation would strain the national transmission grid, which would in turn cost system operators.

Those costs would be handed down to power consumers, he said.

Mr Russell put the argument to Meridian Energy witness Guy Waipara, of Wellington, who said all energy generation had a system cost and, in itself, variant wind energy was not necessarily a problem.

“The variant nature of any energy source on its own does not necessarily amount to a problem.

“Demand also varies from morning to night, season to season, and power systems are structured to manage fluctuations in all energy sources, ” Mr Waipara said.

He said additional energy in the South Island would actually benefit consumers, as it would improve the security of power supplies, especially in dry seasons when hydro power was strained, and it would also force price cuts in both retail and wholesale power through commercial competition.

In his written evidence, Mr Waipara said a $100 million transmission upgrade would accommodate both the Mahinerangi and Project Hayes wind farm proposals, which together would have an additional maximum output of about 830MW.

The energy generation of both wind farms, if consented and built, would be more than enough to power every home in the South Island.

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times outside of the court, Mr Waipara said it was likely a $40 million transmission upgrade in the lower South Island would be approved, which would accommodate most, if not all, of Project Hayes generation.

“It’s better to look at the upgrade capacity in terms of megawatts it can carry, regardless of where the energy comes from.

“Different projects promise different amounts, although it is not known how much [generation capacity] will actually be built, or when,” Mr Waipara said.

He explained to the court that when electricity grid operator Transpower and the Electricity Commission looked at upgrading transmission throughout New Zealand they had considered the next 20 years and what would be needed to accommodate sufficient additional energy generation throughout the country over that time.

Therefore, it was possible a $100 million upgrade, which would accommodate Project Hayes and Mahinerangi, would not be sufficient to allow for other proposed energy generation.

The maximum combined output of all other wind farm projects proposed for the South Island could be about 500MW.

“There is far more energy generation being proposed at the moment than what is needed and it is not right to assume all proposals will be built, or built to their capacity,” Mr Waipara saidDay 9

By Rosie Manins

Otago Daily Times

30 July 2008