The site tour of the Tararua Wind Farm-the country's just completed premier wind farm of 48 Vestas V47 turbines-offered a potentially sobering example of how the changes have had a major effect on the country's burgeoning wind development. After years of research, undergoing extensive resource management processes, not to mention considerable outlay, CentralPower is shortly to say good-bye to its new wind farm as it is passes it over to TrustPower as part of the generation/line split-ups.
Although the reforms have caused problems for some, there is the potential for some good to come out of them, says Fiona Weightman of the country's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. "With the new energy market maybe companies will be interested in differentiating themselves. There are opportunities there," she says, shedding some hope for wind's chances of selling its clean electricity as a value added product. Part of that differentiation may be encouraged by increasing interest in "green power" options, as well as major concerns regarding the on-going provision of power-and the costs involved-for rural electricity users.
Paul van Lieshout, chairman of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association (NZWEA), welcomed the chance to discuss the opportunities of green pricing-selling wind and other renewables at a premium in recognition of their environmental superiority. "[It] will give consumers a choice and gives power companies a means to differentiate its product line," he said. The association supports such initiatives, arguing for a carbon charge, reduced rates for wind power projects and other economic tools that would help rectify the environmental and economic problems associated with fossil fuel-dependent generation.
Weightman adds that in one sense this period of upheaval is a good time to be bringing up such issues as it gives the new companies developing in the electricity market notice from day one that they should take wind seriously as an option.
That seriousness was reflected in a strong turnout for the conference, with 70 or so delegates including a good sized contingent from Australia as well as representatives from NEG Micon, ETAPLUS and Stanwell Corporation presenting papers on their activities. Christophe Bourillon, the Chief Executive of the European Wind Energy Association, made a quick 48 hour trip to New Zealand to bring conference delegates up to speed with developments in the European market. And US green power marketing expert Ed Holt "beamed in" via video-conference to talk about the green pricing experience in the US. "It's a reflection of New Zealand's extremely good wind potential," says Weightman.
Trevor Nash of Vortec Energy, developer and promoter of a "diffuser augmented" wind turbine, would like to see local development encourage local production, boosting component manufacture and assembly opportunities for New Zealand firms. "New Zealand has the technical and manufacturing capability to support this technology-and has the opportunities of an emerging Asia/Pacific market for export of turbine components and global market for export of green generation credits," Nash told delegates.
He pointed out that wind turbines in the country have consistently broken world performance records, noting that the Tararua project was expected to be one of the most productive wind farms in the world with a capacity factor of 50% and likely to produce at the lowest world-wide cost. Nash acknowledged that while the home market was an excellent one for wind energy per se, the "path to commercialisation for new turbine suppliers is not so easy."
Although enthusiasm remains strong, "not easy" could well sum up the current feeling in the New Zealand wind energy scene.