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New Zealand

CONSENT GRANTED FOR HUGE PROJECT, Transmission discussion

The future of wind in New Zealand is looking brighter with the granting of resource consent approval for a project of 137 turbines, to be developed by Tararua WindPower Ltd. There were few objections to siting the machines on 700-hectares in the Tararua Ranges, 11 kilometres from Palmerston North.

Resource consents procedures involve detailed hearings covering the potential environmental effects of major developments, including often lengthy submissions from objectors. One recent hearing saw the plan for the Baring Head wind farm near Wellington rejected (Windpower Monthly, February 1996). The Tararua project, however, encountered few of the personal objections that made the Baring Head hearing so rancorous at times.

Unlike Baring Head, Tararua is not seen as a particularly outstanding land form, says Derek Walker, managing director of CentralPower Ltd, one of two joint venture partners in Tararua WindPower. Merrill International of the US -- which has a worldwide marketing agreement with collapsed California wind company Kenetech -- is the other partner. On the question of wind turbine delivery, Walkers comments: "We have a relationship with Kenetech, but will be putting out a request for proposals with other manufacturers over the next few months."

The main discussion at the hearing concerned possible effects on telecommunications equipment operated by Telecom, Trans Power and TranzRail from three locations on the site and on flight paths to and from Palmerston North Airport. The hearing committee set clearance criteria between the telecommunications facilities and the turbines and also recommended a reduction in height in two of the turbines and relocation of two others to avoid any problems with air traffic.

"There was a lot of local support for the project going ahead," commented Walker after the hearing. "The real buzz was when is it going to happen, not if. " The decision was a quick one -- officially made within the same week as the hearing finished, but unofficially made a few minutes after the committee broke to discuss the results.

The site has been described as one of the best in the world and is to have a final installed capacity of 65 MW. The project's first phase will have up to 85 turbines generating 30 MW and is expected to be operational by mid to late 1997. That phase will provide about 25% of CentralPower's electricity needs, powering 15,000 homes in the Manawatu region.

Walker says that Tararua Windpower is now in the process of finalising equipment and finance costs, along with calculations on how the wind farm's output would compete with other electricity suppliers. While the figures show that wind energy is now viable in New Zealand in terms of delivered costs, the main question is on the cost of transmission. "The financial viability of the project is still finely balanced and a decision on when to proceed will depend on this analysis," says Walker.

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