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New Zealand

New Zealand conference: Enthusiasm high but market stuck

It seems nothing can take the wind out of the sails of the New Zealand wind community. Even as the global recession bites, project refusals mount and national policy hangs in the air, visitors attending the country's annual wind event still managed to stay optimistic.

New Zealand's wind power market may well be "stuck in the doldrums," according to Fraser Clark of the country's wind energy association, NZWEA, but the 300 delegates attending the industry's annual conference in Wellington still retained a bounce in their step. Representatives from wind farm owners, project developers, parts suppliers, contractors and associated services were keen followers of two days of conference presentations, ranging from wind economics to the effects of wind farms on the native falcon population. Throughout they talked enthusiastically about how the country has the best wind resource in the world - and with it huge potential opportunities.

As Steve Sawyer of the Global Wind Energy Council agreed, the country is "on the verge of take-off," along with the rest of the Pacific as well as South America and Africa. It will only happen, however, if government policy is forthcoming to back it up, warned Clark, injecting a note of realism.

Annual wind generation in New Zealand passed the 1000 GWh mark for the first time last year, while installed capacity is set to grow by 50% to over 500 MW this year. But more could be achieved, said Clark. A relatively new government, no specific market support and three large wind projects all given the thumbs down by authorities within days of one another have put the country's wind industry on the back foot of late.

The New Zealand wind sector is still waiting to see how strong the new national government's interest is in maintaining its Labour predecessor's announced target of 90% renewable generation by 2020. The current level is around 74%, mostly from hydro. Wind power accounts for just 3%. The wind lobby is hopeful that the ongoing review of New Zealand's energy strategy and its emissions trading system will yield positive results.

More delays

But Clark, among others, said yet another round of reviews is creating more delays, with investment decisions being put on hold thanks to future policy uncertainty. One of the key issues to be dealt with is the country's site permitting policy, with the industry's hopes pinned on proposed changes to the Resource Management Act to smooth the consents process. NZWEA is intending to develop best practice guidelines, assessment methodologies and a program of co-ordinated responses by the industry to overcome obstacles. "Competitors ... can work together to create new business opportunities," said Clark.

But with public opposition to large multi-megawatt turbine projects seemingly on the rise, the idea of bigger and bigger turbines has taken a bit of a hit. Visual impact has been a major factor in the rejection of some wind farms of late, with the height and visual intrusion of large 3 MW turbines cited as a significant factor (Windpower Monthly, May 2009).

In New Zealand, onshore ridgeline placement is the norm for turbines. "Onshore turbines must be easy to transport and install, and they have to be good neighbours," said Philip Wong Too of consultancy Garrad Hassan. So in countries like New Zealand, where transportation and capital costs, as well as public opinion, play a key factor, there is likely to be an expansion of smaller turbines, he said.

That is good news for local turbine manufacturer Windflow, which makes a 500 kW machine (Windpower Monthly, May 2009). The firm played a key role in the public outreach displays at the exhibition. Two big trucks loaded with Windflow blades and nacelles destined for the Te Rere Hau wind farm generated much interest in the public plaza outside the conference and exhibition venue. Te Rere Hau will use 97 Windflow 500 kW turbines in all.

Windflow turbines are also destined for use at the 12.5 MW Wellington Long Gully project and local councillors were encouraged to take a look as part of familiarisation tour.

Engineer's dream

Despite the acknowledgement of the public's fear of large turbines, when discussing future technology trends, Wong Too could not resist projecting the "engineer's dream" of 15 MW turbines with 200 metre rotor diameters installed offshore within the next ten years or so. But while the industry's mantra has previously been "bigger and bigger," that is now shifting to "bigger and better," he said, with technological developments allowing more optimisation for specific sites and countries rather than one size fits all.

The lack of sufficient electricity transmission capacity was a major theme of the conference. Grid connection and network expansion was one of three simultaneously streamed sessions offering in-depth discussion, the others being wind farm output forecasting and distribution generation. New Zealand's creaking power system came under fire.

The government, however, is recognising the problem. The national Electricity Commission is currently reviewing possible new technology investment and is due to publish a Transmission to Enable Renewables Report soon. John Gleodow, the commission's transmission director, told delegates that investment will most likely focus on upgrades of existing assets.

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