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Contact wins wind farm consent

Contact Energy has all but final consent for the third-largest renewable energy project ever to be contemplated in New Zealand, winning board of inquiry draft approval for a 504 Megawatt wind farm on remote coastline north of Raglan.

While Contact managing director David Baldwin indicated earlier this week that construction could be some years away while the company develops more cost-effective geothermal options, the Hauauru ma raki wind farm is the largest so far to gain a resource consent.

Meridian Energy is still fighting to overturn a decision against its proposed630MW Project Hayes wind farm in the Maniototo region of Otago.

The only larger renewable projects, on an installed generation basis, are hydro-power stations, the 540MW Benmore and the 730MW Manapouri units, both of which are owned by Meridian.

Contact’s HMR project started at 550MW, but has been pared back by environmental considerations to 504MW, to be produced from 168 wind turbines.

Crucially, the draft decision also provides a corridor for transmission of electricity to the national grid from the remote site, which runs along coastal hilltops from four kilometres south of Port Waikato to some 10 km north of Raglan.

“This is another demonstration of the strong option that wind is for New Zealand,” said Wind Energy Association chief executive Fraser Clark.

Wind generation now made up around 4 per cent of total installed generation capacity for the country , with developments currently under way taking that to 5 per cent in the near future.

“The more of these options we have available, the more choice we have for having the lowest cost source of generation as demand rises and new generation needs to be built,” Clark said.

Contact also recently won consents for its proposed 156MW Waitahora wind farm in the Manawatu, but is committing first to constructing some 410MW of new geothermal generation at its Te Mihi and Tauhara
2 sites, near Taupo.

“Tauhara is ahead of wind on basic economics,” Baldwin said at the profit briefing.

The HMR consents did not come easily, with Contact returning to the drawing board after a first round of consent hearings in 2009.

Detail on capital expenditure plans released with Contact’s half-year profit announcement earlier this week showed no new investment is planned in wind over the current forecast horizon, out to 2016.

Contact shares were unchanged in morning trading on the NZX at $6.23.

– BusinessDesk