New Zealand

New Zealand

Industry gathers strength for next big surge -- New Zealand pauses for breath

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New Zealand's wind energy market, long thought one of the world's most promising yet most moribund, spent 2005 preparing its next big growth spurt. Two projects are under construction for 140 MW, part of nearly 1000 MW of consented wind plant in the pipeline. Add to that the potential for over 2000 MW of future capacity and there is no exaggeration in saying that wind power is finally set to play a substantial role in New Zealand's electricity supply.

Installed capacity to date is 168 MW (table), with just one turbine added in 2005 -- a single second-hand 100 kW machine from Denmark. The modest progress is in stark contrast to 2004, when New Zealand wind saw growth of 300%, making it the fastest-growing energy sector in the country. The hiatus, however, is set to be short lived. With the large number of projects in planning, attention is starting to focus on turbine suppliers. The large established wind farm operators have strong links with Vestas, based on earlier developments. TrustPower's 93 MW Tararua III project -- one of the two now constructing and scheduled for completion in summer 2007 -- will use Vestas 3 MW V90s and Meridian is also using Vestas machines for its White Hill and West Wind developments.

For others, it is still early days. Most of the newer developers are not deciding on a supplier until the often-lengthy resource consent process is completed, allowing a tendering process to be undertaken with some degree of certainty.

Genesis Energy used Enercon 550 kW models for its Hau Nui development, but the firm's Richard Gordon says that supply of the 18 turbines approved for its new Awhitu project will be put out to tender later this year. The company is looking for machines in the 1 MW range and has stated that it "will only seek tenders from established, experienced suppliers, using turbine designs that have been well and truly proven in the field. Prototype technology, which has caused initial difficulties elsewhere, will not be used."

This would seem to be a pointed comment aimed at the locally developed Windflow 500 kW machine, the prototype of which saw some problems last year at its Gebbies Pass test site. The second of the two projects now constructing is set to use the Windflow in the 45 MW Te Rere Hau development.

Most of the new wind farms will be looking for larger machines in the 2.3-3 MW range. Developers are talking about supply concerns with the expanding market worldwide seen as having the potential to cause delays in sourcing appropriate technology.

Potential mapped

A recent report from the Electricity Commission looks at wind generation in New Zealand over the next five to ten years, considering a range of scenarios which include wind providing 2250 MW to the national grid by 2016, or 17% of total national demand. The report looks not so much at possible sites and development, but more at the implications for the country's power system and electricity market of the burgeoning growth of wind energy.

The bulk of the country's 176 turbines are found in the North Island, clustered around the strong wind resource of the lower North Island where TrustPower's Tararua project is located, set to reach 161 MW when stage three is complete. The east coast area near Hastings has a number of large scale projects working their way through the consents process, with development primarily led by Unison Networks, New Zealand's fourth largest electricity lines company. Commissioning of these projects over the next two to three years will see that part of the country take over from the Manawatu/Wairarapa as the main wind energy generating region.

Windy Wellington will live up to its reputation, with the nearby 210 MW Meridian West Wind farm breaking through the barrier of the consent and appeals process. As with many New Zealand wind farms, it is expected to have a world-leading capacity utilisation factor. If it does reach the expected 50% then it could well be able to claim to be the highest producing wind farm in the world. It might be a short-lived title, however, as a just-announced 300 MW farm by TrustPower at Lake Mahinerangi, south of Dunedin, could give it a run for its money. The wind farm could be teamed up with the hydro storage lake to improve reliability of supply during dry winters. The thought has occurred to Meridian as well, with the suggestion that there is potential for 1000 MW in Otago that could be connected into its large Waitaki hydro scheme.

With an extremely good wind resource and the threat of generation shortages whenever hydro reserves run low, the New Zealand wind market is no longer in need of subsidies to thrive. So good are the prospects that the market is these days dominated by the country's largest generators. But a new independent company has appeared on the scene as a prospective developer. Ventus Energy (NZ) Ltd was incorporated in New Zealand in early 2004 as an off-shoot of an Irish renewable energy company of the same name. It has one 22-turbine project in process in the Waitomo region.

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