Contact Energy has signalled its intent to start build wind farms in what would be a first for the country’s largest privately-controlled power firm.
Chief executive Mike Fuge said it had appointed a Plimmerton-based consulting firm, Roaring40s, to develop “a pipeline of large-scale wind farm opportunities” over the next six years.
The statement came at the same time spot market electricity prices were sitting above 50 cents a kilowatt hour in Auckland and many other parts of the country – a rate that is substantially higher than the retail power prices paid by consumers.
Contact has so far invested in hydro and geothermal generation, but Fuge said the consulting contract sent a strong signal it was serious about exploring high quality wind generation options “to meet higher market demand scenarios and accelerated decarbonisation”.
Contact separately committed this year to building a 152 megawatt geothermal power station on the Tauhara field near Taupo at a cost of $580 million.
There are some signs the country’s majority state-owned gentailers are also gearing up to make more investment in green energy after a long period of relative dormancy.
Meridian Energy reignited its plan to spend $395m on a 41-turbine wind farm in Hawke’s Bay in February and has forecast it will build a new wind farm about every three years.
Genesis has signalled it could dust off plans for a wind farm at Castle Hill in the Wairarapa in which it once mooted investing $1.6b, while at the same time going to market for possible partners.
However, the fresh investment will not come fast enough to head off a big spike in wholesale electricity prices which Major Electricity Users Group chairman Jon Harbord has warned could persist through to the third quarter of this year and drive some electricity users – large and small – out of business.
Nor is it clear yet whether the investments will be sufficiently sustained to match a large increase in electricity demand forecast by officials through to 2050.
The Wind Energy Association estimated in 2019 that the country would need another 1000 wind turbines by 2050 to meet the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s best guess of future demand.