Wind energy New Zealand: Generators shift focus from water to wind power

New Zealand generators say that wind turbines rather than hydro power projects are an immediate focus in the aftermath of their decisions to halt hydro plans on the West Coast of the South Island.

On Tuesday Meridian Energy, New Zealand’s largest generator, exited the Mokihinui hydro project near Westport, citing cost concerns and worries that the project would not get the right ticks from the Conservation Department and the Government.

Before that TrustPower put on hold its 46-megawatt hydro generation scheme on the Arnold River, near Greymouth. That project was granted consent in November 2008.

Meridian chief executive Mark Binns said the company would now look to other wind turbines projects including a potential wind farm in Victoria, Australia. Meridian already had a small wind farm in Mt Millar, South Australia.

The generator also had other wind and hydro projects in both the North and South Islands, including its consented Mill Creek project, a 60-megawatt wind farm west of Porirua near its Makara wind farm.

It has also applied for consents for a 33-turbine wind farm between Omihi and Greta Valley in North Canterbury.

Any new projects needed to make economic sense, Binns said. "We have more wind options in the immediate future, and it’s probable you will see over time the rollout of more smaller wind projects as opposed to any mega hydro projects.

"Hydro projects are probably innately more difficult to get up than wind. Water is a very emotional topic, it gets higher levels of engagement."

The country did at some point need to address the growth in power needs, Binns said.

"At the moment we’re relatively lucky in that demand levels are relatively sluggish with the recession." ‘

TrustPower community relations manager Graeme Purches said the West Coast had limited power lines joining it to the main grid meaning that imported energy was dissipated as it travelled down the transmission lines.

"The poor old West Coasters effectively pay for 1000 units of power to get 810 [after energy is lost through transmission]," he said.

However, the Arnold River project was on hold because of economics, Purches said. TrustPower was now focused on wind farms.