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Wind taken from Waikato power plant’s sails

A decline in demand for electricity has put on hold plans to construct Waikato’s largest wind farm.

Contact Energy won consent to build the Hauauru ma raki (HMR) wind farm along the Waikato west coast in May last year but yesterday said it could be years before development begins.

Spokeswoman Janet Carson said electricity demand had dampened over the past three years and the outlook for wind development was not economic.

“Supply and demand is unbalanced at the moment,” she said.

“We are closely monitoring the external drivers that influence HMR’s economics so that we can proceed with the project when the economic outlook is more favourable.”

The news comes as power industry leaders meet in Hamilton today for the annual New Zealand Wind Energy Conference.

New Zealand Wind Energy Association chief executive Eric Pyle, who will speak on the future of wind energy, said the slowdown in demand, linked to economic growth, was expected to bounce back.

“In the next few years we’re assuming electricity demand will pick up and, when it does, we expect it to be at the head of the queue.”

With three wind farms currently consented for Waikato, and Te Uku wind farm near Raglan already operational, Mr Pyle said the region was a driving force for wind energy.

“We see a great future for the wind industry generally in New Zealand, and I’m certain the Waikato’s going to be part of that,” he said.

“The Waikato coast – you’ve got Te Uku there – and what that farm is showing is there’s a tremendous wind resource on that coast. It’s a good consistent wind. It’s certainly one area of the country that’s had a lot of attention.”

Contact Energy’s wind farm site runs from south of Port Waikato to Te Akau. Should the project go ahead as intended, HMR wind farm would generate up to 504 megawatts of power from 168 turbines, providing power to around 170,000 homes. Contact Energy expected it would generate about $180 million of regional income, including $115m of household income over the five-year construction period. It would also create an estimated 1033 jobs once operational.

Ms Carson said electricity demand was the “critical factor” in determining when development would start on what would be the country’s largest wind farm.

Two other wind farms – Taumatatotara and Taharoa –have been consented for development south of Kawhia Harbour.

The Wind Energy Conference is on today and tomorrow at Claudelands Events Centre.