Prime Minister John Key has defended the prospect of Te Uku’s swish new wind farm falling into partial private ownership.
Mr Key officially opened the $200 million project – designed and nursed through resource consent by community-owned lines company Wel Networks, and now operated by state-owned Meridian Energy – high on the Whauraroa Plateau in front of 250 guests yesterday.
Other speakers hailed the advent of a wind farm tipped to become one of the most productive in the world. But Mr Key made no apologies for the wind farm potentially being an asset for sale under National’s stated policy of looking to privatise up to 49 per cent of Meridian, New Zealand’s largest electricity generator.
Over the next five years the Government itself wants to buy $33 billion of assets and Mr Key said the best option was “to potentially release a bit of capital from things we own and invest it in things we want”.
“We think it [Meridian] could be a world-class company, but we can’t keep funding all these things. There is a lot of logic behind what we are trying to do.”
The Te Uku wind farm generated its first electricity on November 13 and currently has 22 turbines installed and 17 working.
All 28 turbines will be operational within a few weeks, giving the wind farm the capacity to power 30,000 homes.
That is assuming residents can still afford electricity prices, given tariffs have skyrocketed 72 per cent in the past nine years.
On that subject, Mr Key said it was a case of companies only introducing new technology and generation such as Te Uku “when it pays for itself”.
The best the Government could do was to cheapen the consenting process, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars in costs.
“If we really want power prices to stop going up … we have to allow new generation to occur at a cheaper rate and part of that battle has been around the RMA consenting process,” he said. “As a Government we have tried very hard to reform that legislation.”
But Meridian has had such a smooth ride at Te Uku that chief executive Tim Lusk heaped praise on Waikato District Council for its slick work in quickly processing resource consent.
“There were times when we thought our partnership was with Waikato District Council rather than Wel Networks,” he said.
Mr Lusk said Te Uku was Waikato’s biggest construction site and the project had given the region a significant economic boost.
Meanwhile, Mr Key said he could understand if some people disliked wind farms, given his experiences with one “just up the road’ from where he regularly holidayed in the US.
“Depending on what day of the week it is, I can’t work out if I love it or hate it. That is the reality of wind farms.”
TE UKU WIND FARM
Situated on 55.8sq km of privately owned land
400m above sea level
Will generate 64.4MW of electricity
Turbine towers 80m high
Blades 49m long
Turbines weigh 311 tonnes
Turbine foundations contain 1000 tonnes of concrete
Operates in wind speeds between 14 and 90kmh