Mercury has confirmed it will build the first 33 of 60 consented wind turbines at Turitea near Palmerston North.
With construction starting on the northern end of the site in August, the wind farm will start generating in early 2021, and returning royalties to Palmerston North ratepayers.
The Manawatū wind farm will be the third largest in the country, producing enough electricity to power 210,000 electric cars.
Mercury chief executive Fraser Whineray said it would be the first large-scale addition to New Zealand’s generation capacity since 2014.
The energy company, previously as Mighty River Power, had worked on development of the farm for 15 years, and Whineray said Kiwis wanted new renewable energy capacity.
The resource consent for the wind farm was due to expire in 2021. Whineray said through commissioning the first stage in late 2020, Mercury would satisfy the requirement to have construction under way by then.
“The estimated $256 million project supports the opening up of a further $750m investment opportunity in wind energy development.”
Another 27 Vesta turbines are planned for Turitea and Mercury has consents to construct a 53-turbine wind farm at Puketoi, east of Pahīatua, which will be served by the same transmission lines through to Linton.
Turitea and Puketoi were regarded as the best areas in New Zealand for wind farms due to high wind speeds and proximity to the national grid.
Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith said the decision to go ahead was fantastic for the city, not only because of the six-figure sum the council would receive each year, but as a start on the $3 billion of capital projects in the pipeline for the city and region.
The project would require up to 140 people working on site during the peak of construction. It also sat well alongside the council’s goal to be an eco-city. “It is a legacy from past councils,” he said.
Former mayor Jono Naylor, who held the mayoralty through the consenting process, said the project was controversial – there were more than 700 submissions on the proposals, the bulk in opposition.
A lot of changes were made to the original proposal to restrict the visual impact on the skyline and on the nearest rural-residential neighbours.
“We had this land at Turitea which, apart from collecting water, was not achieving anything else and turbines were quite fashionable at the time,” Naylor said.
He said the council and private land-owners would benefit financially from hosting wind farms. “It is getting income from something other than the pockets of ratepayers.”
Whineray said the development further established Manawatū as New Zealand’s centre for wind energy production.
Mercury generates about 6800 gigawatt hours of renewable electricity per annum, which is about 16 per cent of New Zealand’s total electricity generation.
It will be the first company to have invested in all four renewable energy sources – wind, solar, hydro and geothermal.
On average, the 119 megawatt Turitea wind farm will generate 470GWh per annum.
2004: The Palmerston North City Council chooses Mighty River Power to develop a wind farm in the Turitea Reserve.
2006: The Turitea Reserve Management Plan is amended so its purpose is to provide for renewable energy generation.
December 2008: Environment Minister Nick Smith appoints a Board of Inquiry to hear the resource consent application for a 131-turbine wind farm.
July 2009: Hearing begins.
October 2009: Hearing adjourned while Mighty River Power redesigns the plan for 104 turbines.
March 2010: Hearing resumes.
February 2011: Draft decision released allowing 60 turbines.
May 2011: Mighty River Power asks for a further 12 turbines.
September 2011: Final decision allows for 60 turbines.