New Zealand

New Zealand

Tararua heartache

New Zealand's premier wind project, the Tararua Wind Farm being developed by CentralPower Ltd, is on target for full-scale operation from April next year -- and it is up for sale. The sale has been forced upon the company as part of the government's deregulation of the electricity market, which requires utilities to split retail and distribution functions, focusing on one or the other. With NZ$150 million of its $200 million assets in distribution, CentralPower's route was obvious. That said, the decision to sell the wind farm caused heartache for those involved in the six-year project.

"It's emotionally difficult as it's a project we've nurtured for a long period," admitted CentralPower's Derek Walker to the wind session at the Solar '98 conference (main story).

The full complement of the planned 48 Vestas V47 turbines are set to be operational by April 1 on what Walker describes as "a wind site made in heaven." The average wind speed is 10-11 m/s. Walker notes that wind noise at the site is far louder than anything produced by the turbines. "On that site when the wind's blowing you're not concerned about noise, you're concerned about standing up!" he laughs.

Initial results from the turbines already commissioned has CentralPower confident of reaching the predicted 50% capacity factor. "It is evident that the predicted performance of Tararua is higher than any reported to date in the world," he says, noting a specific output of 1650 kWh/m2/year. That, and the fact that the plant is possibly the first in the world to be constructed within budget in an environment where there are no subsidies or premium energy prices has Walker proud of the achievement. He sees any future development unlikely, however.

A market with looming surplus generating capacity, a fall in the value of the New Zealand dollar, and a projected sharp drop in wholesale electricity prices are going to make life tough for any prospective wind developer. "This is disastrous for the economics of new power projects and will delay future investment," says Walker.

He is confident, however, that the Tararua project will live up to expectations and continue to contribute the 32 MW of power planned. "I don't think anyone's going to spend $50 million and let the machines fall over," he commented. But it appears unlikely the company will recoup its investment. A suggestion from the conference audience that CentralPower send an invoice for a possible $5-10 million shortfall to energy minister Max Bradford brought a hollow laugh.

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