While New Zealand's Meridian Energy was saying farewell to its proposed South Island Project Aqua hydro power development, construction teams got to work preparing the ground for the company's new wind farm on the North Island. The 90 MW Te Apiti wind farm of 55 turbines will be the country's largest to date. While the abandoned Project Aqua is claimed by its supporters to have been a victim of the "bureaucratic provisions" in the country's tough Resource Management Act, the Te Apiti wind project sailed through the act's consenting process in just three days.
It has not all been plain sailing for the wind project. The weather, rather than bureaucracy, has been the main stumbling block, with heavy storms leaving the site flood drenched, resulting in 32 out of 123 days lost, hazardous working conditions, major slips and a washed-out bridge rendering access roads unusable. Construction personnel have had to be dropped in by helicopter and shifted from site preparation to clearing blocked roads. The closure of the main route to the site has also added an extra two hours travelling time a day just to get to work.
Meridian's team seems unperturbed. "We've seen it all," says project construction manager Paul Jongenelen. "But we're aiming to have the installation program intact." The first of the 55 NEG Micon NM72 turbines arrive in early May.
A silver lining to the wild weather at least allowed the crew to add road widening to the post-storm remedial work to create the necessary ten metre access for the 400 tonne crane required to get the turbines in place. The roads will be brought back to five metres wide once construction work is over.
The concrete pour for the foundations saw contractors Higgins import a special concrete batching unit from the United States. With 75 truckloads for each foundation, the unit is in near-continual operation to produce the 400 cubic metres required to fill each of the 16 metre holes. The 4.2-metre steel rings in the base have been imported from Australia, as the scale of the project is beyond any local supplier. So far, it looks like the first string of four turbines -- the G string -- will be up on schedule. "We hope to have it producing power back to the Woodville [sub-station] by early July," says Jongenelen.
Before that happens, the new transformer has to arrive from Indonesia for installation. It will take the 22 kV output and convert it to 110 kV for supply down the hill to Woodville, where Transpower's sub-station will take it on into the national grid, the first wind energy to feed directly into the New Zealand transmission network.
Tararua action too
Across the gorge from the construction site, the blades of Trustpower's Tararua Vestas turbines can be seen. It too is growing, with an additional 40 MW set to be installed by May. The presence of Tararua has been cited as one reason why Meridian's progress through the consents process was so smooth. Many local objections and concerns had already been dealt with and the local wind farm has become something of an attraction.
Average wind speed in the area is a high 9.8 m/s, says Meridian's Adam Muldoon, making it an ideal wind development area. But unlike many other locations in New Zealand, the wind only rarely rises to a stormy 25 m/s, the cut-out speed of the turbines. "This narrow band of distribution means it's fantastic for wind," Muldoon says.
The project is a massive one for New Zealand. To a certain extent it has benefited from economies of scale thanks to Meridian's wind developments in neighbouring Australia. The initial order to NEG Micon, now merged with Vestas, was for 105 turbines, with 50 of these destined for Meridian's Wattle Point Wind Farm in South Australia. "This made it economic to do in New Zealand," notes Meridian's Alan Seay.