Contact Energy receives approval for 504 MW New Zealand wind energy project

In a draft decision released yesterday, the board of inquiry considering the application for the 504 MW Hauauru Ma Raki (northwest wind) wind farm proposed granting resource consents for the wind turbines and designation for associated transmission lines and substations.

If it gets the final nod, it will be the largest wind farm to have gained resource consent in New Zealand. Submitters now have 20 working days to make comments on the decision, after which the board – headed by Judge Jeffrey Smith – will consider the comments and produce a final decision and report.

Contact reduced its application from the original 180 wind turbines to 168 as part of environmental considerations during a hearing process which started in May 2009, and was adjourned for 12 months, before wrapping up in November 2010. But the wind farm is still expected to produce enough renewable energy to power around 170,000 homes.

"We have concluded that there are significant benefits to this project, not only in terms of the supply of renewable energy, but its proximity to Auckland city," the board said in its decision.

During the hearings there was considerable discussion as to whether Contact was fully committed to the project, with the final go-ahead expected to depend on a number of factors – including constraints imposed as a result of consent conditions.

The board noted the project was still by no means a certainty, and in its 300-page draft report proposed conditions under which construction of the turbines must start within 10 years and conclude within 15 years.

"We are digesting its content and will reflect on our response over the next few weeks," said Contact chief operating officer Graham Cockroft.

Fraser Clark, chief executive of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, said the draft decision would help ensure New Zealanders continued to benefit from low cost, renewable electricity.

New Zealand’s electricity demand is expected to grow on average 1.4 per cent a year to 2030, even with electricity efficiency measures. Wind turbines will have a maximum hub height of 100 metres and three 50-metre blades, giving a total height of 150 metres.

Construction of the wind farm would require about 127,000 cubic metres of concrete, mostly for the turbine foundations. Each turbine base would require about 110 truckloads of concrete. The wind farm would also require about 95km of turbine access roads, constructed on private land.