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New Zealand

New Zealand

Castle Hill hits economic and legal hurdles

NEW ZEALAND: The Castle Hill wind farm in New Zealand faces permitting and economic challenges before the 860MW project can go ahead.

One of the largest proposed wind farms in the southern hemisphere, Castle Hill was granted construction consent by the local council in June. However appeals have been lodged by opponents and by the developer, power company Genesis Energy.

The NZ$1.6 billion (US$1.3 billion) onshore project is located in a sparsely populated rural area of south-east North Island. The proposal comprises 286 turbines of 135 metre height or 242 machines up to 155 metres.

A local opposition group and education establishment want the project to be refused, while the developer is asking for some consent conditions to be reversed.

When granting consent for the project, council commissioners removed 19 turbines from the proposal and restricted more than 50 to a maximum height of 115 metres and a rotor diameter of 70 metres, slashing potential production and choice of turbine.

The council has reserved the option to insist that the developer set up a bond to cover contingencies such as environmental clean-up in case the government no longer owns a majority stake in the company. Genesis wants these restrictions removed. Genesis Energy is one of three state-owned enterprises in which the New Zealand government is planning to sell a 49% stake.

The next and likely final step in consent appeal involves the environment court. "This will go to mediation first," said Eric Pyle, CEO of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association. "A lot of issues are dealt with and the hearings are focused on issues that can't be resolved." Richard Gordon, public affairs manager of Genesis, expects the final decision some time next year.

The 53-turbine Puketoi wind farm planned by state-owned Mighty River Power has also received consent and is subject to appeals.

No urgency

However, the tougher test currently seems to be economic. Genesis is among four of New Zealand's top six generators that believe there is enough existing capacity to meet current demand.

The company is not committing to when construction will start, but Genesis CEO Albert Brantley stated earlier in the year that he did not expect to be building new generation of any type for several years.

Meanwhile, Meridian Energy, the country's largest generator, started work on its 60MW Mill Creek wind farm in August.

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