New Zealand

New Zealand

Huge increase in wind generation soon -- All set for take off in 2004

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Once again, New Zealand's wind energy industry spent much of 2003 being optimistic about the future while wincing about the present. Just two turbines went up to increase installed capacity by just 1.16 MW. "Last year was pitiful," says one observer. "But of course it's looking good for this year." Projects underway or planned to begin construction will see capacity increase by at least 132 MW in the next two years to take the country's total to 170 MW or more.

By the end of 2003 though, New Zealand's wind generation was just 38 MW from 58 turbines. The first of the two turbines installed in the year was Windflow Technology's prototype 500 kW turbine near Christchurch. Early problems with excessive noise on the prototype resulted in it being shut down while the thrust collar and gearbox were overhauled to solve the problem. With the prototype now running again, Windflow's Geoff Henderson is confident about the future. The company's shares increased in value by more than 25% after listing on the NZ Exchange's alternative market, NZAX, and the company has plans for the development of an extensive wind farm using locally made turbines based on Henderson's technology.

New Zealand's other turbine installed in 2003 -- commissioned on December 31 -- was a Vestas 660 kW V47 installed by TrustPower. It is the first of 55 of the same model which the company is installing as part of the stage two development of its Tararua wind farm. At a cost of NZ$60 million, they will add to the 48 Vestas V47 turbines installed in stage one, bringing the wind farm's installed capacity to 68 MW from 103 turbines.

Meanwhile, Meridian Energy, New Zealand's largest state-owned energy generator, broke new ground in 2003, unveiling plans for the 55 turbine Te Apiti wind farm. Due online in early 2005, the 90-96 MW development will use NEG Micon's 1.65 MW turbines. In addition, the Kyoto Protocol carbon credits Meridian won through a local tender process (Windpower Monthly, January 2004) are to be sold to the ERUPT program operated by the Netherlands government.

Such international dealings have led to increased interest in New Zealand wind by overseas companies, says Ian Shearer of the national wind association. Interest from the US, Australia and Saudi Arabia has been particularly strong, he says. Investment New Zealand, a government body responsible for assisting overseas investors entering the country, is "getting swamped" with people wanting to invest in New Zealand wind, says Shearer.

The planned developments for 2004 are "a nice starting point," he continues. A number of unsuccessful wind projects were bid into New Zealand's carbon credit tender, an indication of more development should a better economic basis develop for the industry. New Zealand's historically low energy prices and abundant resources of hydro and coal generated energy have caused problems for the nascent wind sector. But energy shortages resulting from low rainfall in the hydro areas have seen wind's potential highlighted in several high-profile energy debates.

Government should promote and support a "very substantial and urgent program of constructing wind farms," says John Blakeley, of the Sustainable Energy Forum. He believes at least 800 MW of wind -- sufficient to replace the controversial Project Aqua hydro scheme planned for the Waitaki River -- should be encouraged. Hydro power, he adds, would provide a useful means of balancing fluctuating wind energy generation.

According to Shearer, concerns about variable wind supply are unjustified. Fluctuations in wind plant output in New Zealand are likely to be under 1% of supply thanks to its abundant wind resources, compared to 30% in Germany, a point the Electricity Commission has not yet understood, he says.

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