The New Zealand wind energy scene is still in the doldrums, but there are hopes for the future, judging by the mood at the annual conference of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association (NZWEA). Against the odds it remained upbeat in the hope of improved government policies on renewable.
New Zealand wind proponents are well aware of the country's potential for wind energy. With annual mean wind speeds of up to 9 m/s and rising electricity demand, the country would seem well set for development. However, as NZWEA Chairman Alistair Wilson pointed out, there are factors which have stalled plans to develop the resource. These include international problems, such as low exchange rates making imported equipment expensive and the general global economic downturn, but also local concerns such as the current grid pricing set-up, policy implementation and planning compliance.
Wilson further cited a lack of political will to support renewables, poor support for premium-pricing of green power and relatively little forward development in government policy. More stalling of the market is likely to be caused by a focus on energy efficiency programs, which aims to reduce energy usage in New Zealand by 20%, and by the general public perception that the country's high reliance on hydropower means that renewable energy resources are already suitably developed.
The rather gloomy outlook was exacerbated on the opening day by the announcement that New Zealand will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol prior to this month's Johannesburg Earth Summit, and by political uncertainty two weeks out from a general election. Energy minister Pete Hodgson attempted to allay concerns at the perceived policy slowdown, stressing the renewables target of an additional 30PJ by 2012. Half that increase is set to come from "business as usual," though, and the figure has been criticised because of its description as a "best endeavour" rather than as a mandatory target. If the entire target were to be met by wind, it would require no more than 200 MW of generating capacity.
Hodgson noted that there is still a great deal of work to be done in developing both the policy and its infrastructure, such as its implementation and procedural aspects. He expects the new system to be operational by the middle of 2003 and, while recognising the push towards renewable energy sources, noted government commitments to providing energy sources as cheaply as possible.
Hodgson said he was aware that New Zealand firms had been approached by overseas organisations interested in buying greenhouse gas emission reductions, and that implementing carbon charges would make such projects more attractive through their effect on forward revenue and cost streams. With the return of the Labour government for a three year term, and given the vocal power of the Greens, positive noises on policy might be expected.
The conference had a strong international focus, with an global wind overview by California wind veteran Paul Gipe. Interest was also keen in activities in Australia and the UK. Australian speakers Peter Rae and Heinz Dahl described the background for Australia's wind energy "boom," which is aiming for 5000 MW of wind by 2010.