Another wind farm approved.

by Bryan Walker on August 16, 2011

Bit by bit wind energy in New Zealand continues to make progress. It was announced today that the Environment Court has upheld resource consent for Meridian’s proposed Mill Creek wind farm in the Ohariu Valley north-west of Wellington.

The decision grants approval for 26 of the 31 turbines applied for, resulting in a combined capacity of 60MW. The five turbines were excluded due to adverse effects on nearby rural lifestyle properties. It’s over three years since the resource consent application was lodged, so it certainly hasn’t happened in a hurry.

The farm grew out of a decision by a group of farmers to form a company over a decade ago. They sought tenders to develop the wind farm to maximise the value of farming their land for wind as well as through traditional pastoral methods. Meridian was chosen.

Consistent wind speeds mean that the project at Mill Creek can generate electricity over 90% of the time. The 31 turbines originally applied for were estimated to be able to generate enough to power the equivalent of 35,000 average homes.

The new CEO of the NZ Wind Energy Association Eric Pyle has, understandably, welcomed the decision as another positive step forward. He comments on a couple of aspects of the court’s decision. One is that they adopted the new NZS:6808 wind farm noise standard published last year to update the 1998 version. “This validates the hard work the industry has put in to help develop this standard.”

The other pleasing feature he mentioned was that the Court decision focused on the environmental effects of the wind farm and strongly supported the view that debates about economic viability of a wind farm belong in the board room, not the court room.

No doubt economic viability will determine when (though hopefully not if) Meridian proceeds with the project. But at least the way is now open. I look forward to the day when estimates for New Zealand wind farms’ contribution will not be expressed only in how many homes they can supply, but also how many electric vehicles they can power – in the process, as I wrote in an earlier post,  smoothing the peaks and troughs of electricity supply so efficiently they could triple the country’s capacity to use wind power. A much more interesting prospect than the pursuit of fossil fuel mining that the government is so fixated on.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

pithy chrithy August 16, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Bryan,
Dr James Hansen noted that energy efficiency is the ‘low-hanging fruit’ to tackle climate change now.There is much to be gained by making energy efficiency our first priority, as it delivers real and immediate benefits for those who adopt the policy, as noted for example by all the EECA TV ads.
We need to differentiate between wind energy , small local wind turbines, and industrial wind farms.
The first two help to future-proof individuals and local communities, the industrial wind farms deliver returns to the energy companies and more expensive power prices to the consumers.
Energy efficiency combined with ‘block’ or progressive pricing has enormous benefits to offer the consumer and the environment.
I note former President Clinton put energy efficiency at the top of his list of suggestions to President Obama for job creation…see Newsweek about a month ago.
I would be pleased to copy a letter to you that I wrote to our present Minister of Finance regarding the merits of energy efficiency and progressive pricing, the latter being a vital part of ‘locking in’ the savings of efficiency retrofits as espoused by George Monbiot in ‘Heat, and now part of the Green Party’s Energy Policy.

Thomas August 17, 2011 at 8:33 am

p.c.: your assertions about “industrial size wind farms” are wrong.
I have taken a very in depth look into the matter. I tried to draw up plans for a community scale local wind project here where I live and after studying it extensively found that the efficiency and cost effectiveness of large scale projects with modern multi-MW turbines offers the best cost to return ratio for the consumer and potential investors and due to economy of scale is much cheaper to maintain too.
Here in NZ wind power is not subsidized. We have a great wind resource. At a meeting at Huntley lately I was told that one by one the Huntley coal generators will close down, one soon, because other forms of power generation have become more cost effective!
Wind energy in NZ will if anything secure a lower energy price for consumers well into the future.
NZ can move towards a totally fossil fuel free electric grid with building out the wind energy potential plus geo-thermal potential and tidal projects. Lets work together for a fossil fuel free NZ electricity grid by 2030. We can do it!

Beaker August 18, 2011 at 1:10 am

Pithy Chrithy
Others here have already covered the ‘energy efficiency AND renewables’ angle. I can not remember a time in my 41 years when energy efficiency was not being promoted, yet energy consumption has just gone up and up. We should not stop trying but we are stuffed if we rely on it alone.
Why the “industrial wind” invective? It is very common over here in the UK, both with NIMBY’s and local politicians who are all in favour of wind power, but not industrial wind in sight of their electorate.
Small wind turbines, if you want to generate renewable power you are better off investing in 100m + turbines because the returns are so much greater. The ‘big bad energy company’ stuff is just childish.
Prices, Global fuel prices and droughts impact NZ electricity prices, adding wind power is a hedge against these and saves the consumer money. This effect is seen in countries where wind power is given significant incentives – NZ does not even do this. Look up the merit order effect and marginal costs.

AndrewH August 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Dear PC.
By all means make energy efficiency your top priority. You should, I should (and try to) we all should. But, we should also develop renewables fast enough to overtake demand and displace the exiting fossil fuel plants and to that end Mill Creek is a positive step.
I don’t see any need to differentiate between wind energy at any scale. Grid connected wind farms can’t increase the price of power because they bid into the market at effectively no cost.
On the other hand if you work out the cost of power from a small domestic wind turbine you will most likely find it comes in at something around the retail price of power (or more) and unless you live in a very windy location you will need a decent sized turbine (or two) to supply your home.
I do agree that ‘block pricing’ would be good driver of savings.
cheers
Andrew

Bryan Walker August 17, 2011 at 7:46 am

pithy crithy, agree with you entirely on the primacy of energy efficiency, as is attested in many posts on Hot Topic. But your accompanying comments on industrial wind farms are out of sync. Wind is a benign source of electric power and a necessary part of replacing the use of fossil fuels. It has to be on an industrial scale to make an appreciable contribution, and if it is brought into service to power electric vehicles, as I hope it will be, there is all the more need for its development on a large scale.

_R2D2 August 17, 2011 at 10:18 am

Yip. Agree.

Check these out:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-14384889

Apparently each blade has a bigger span than both wings of a 747

Macro August 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Bryan I wholeheartedly agree that that more emphasis on wind is not only urgent it is vital. But one area that is being overlooked is solar. Not only solar water heating which even in the deep south of this country is economically feasible, but also house design is another poorly regarded aspect for future development. Houses that face their garages to the north – with a double garage door as the front and no windows to speak of – are everywhere! Developers should be sent to Siberia for such disasters! The heating is in the form of heat pumps – ok! but how about some passive heating? Having worked in a part-time retirement job, for something to do and to keep me fit, setting out roads and housing developments for the past 6 years – believe me I know what I’m talking about! The sole criteria for these almost exclusively upper market (because that was where the money was) developments is: “how can we squeeze as many houses into this block as possible?”. And these new dwellings will last for 50 – 100 years or longer with no possibility of using the solar energy that is freely given for heating. We need to be considering as a starting point how we can make our new and existing Cities and towns as energy efficient as possible, not as something of an after thought, and that involves ensuring that we make full use of the energy that is freely given almost every day – Solar.

Bryan Walker August 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Couldn’t agree more Macro. We have a solar hot water panel on our roof, for instance, and I would have thought they could be made a compulsory part of all new building. We’ve gone as far as compulsory insulation in new buildings and I see no reason why there chouldn’t be a whole range of other mandatory efficiency standards. In the draft Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy there’s lots of use of terms like “encourage”, “build recognition” ,”boost existing market trends”, but this seems to be what it adds up to: “The Government supports the adoption of market-based solutions that set aspirational goals above minimum standards.”

Macro August 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Exactly Bryan! I have discussed this matter with a number of Architects and Planners over recent years, but its not what the “market” wants. Actually if someone was brave enough to start marketing well designed energy efficient attractive homes I’m sure people would start to take notice. The trouble is that most developers, and we worked for Universal and a number of other mid to upper level home builders, have a standard concept and they won’t budge from that. Regulation is the genesis of inspiration and innovation – we see that time and time again – but try telling that to the neo-liberals!

Tom Bennion August 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Wind power with pumped storage. Where are the studies?

Thomas August 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Tom: In NZ all you need to do is to throttle back on the flow of our hydro stations to achieve not only the same but even much better: its loss less!

Pumped storage however requires you to pump water up only to later let it down a hydro station again. The pumping up bit plus later re-conversion into electricity costs significant efficiency plus you need to build large storage dams. All up not a very energy efficient solution.

But in a country where we have huge hydro projects already, all you need to do is to throttle these back and in effect you store the water then in the lake for a calm day. Same idea only so much better!

That’s why many of the hydro operators are so keen on adding wind capacity to their hydro projects because both in tandem offer loss less integration and allow surplus wind to replace water base load when available. A generator who can supply this mix can make the best returns from either.

NZ is rather blessed starting into the age of alternative electricity generation with the head start of our hydro base load which works as described like large battery when required….

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