Monday, October 30, 2006

Wind in Australia

So far, the competition to be the Southern Hemisphere's largest windfarm has been limited to New Zealand (and the Manawatu at that). Currently, Meridian Energy's Te Apiti holds the title, at 90.8 MW, but it will soon be eclipsed again by Tararua, which then be overtaken by the 210 MW Project Westwind (assuming consents are granted), which will in turn lose to the 270 MW Hawkes Bay Windfarm. But now Australia is getting into the act, with a 329 MW farm planned for MacArthur in Victoria. This cannot be allowed to stand. But fortunately, Meridian has a plan to trump the Aussies: Project Hayes, a massive 630 MW monster in Central Otago.

The Aussies are now having exactly the same sorts of debates about wind farms we have had (and mostly gotten over) in New Zealand. People are arguing that they're ugly, unreliable, noisy, that they kill birds, and that the flicker of their turning blades drives people mad (no, I didn't make that one up). In New Zealand, most of these concerns have been dismissed as spurious, though significant landscape values may still be taken into account. Interestingly, Project Hayes has problems on that front, as it would significantly change the nature of the Central Otago landscape. But that's what the RMA process is for.

Finally, its interesting to note that it costs around twice as much (in dollars per MW) to build a windfarm in Australia as in New Zealand. Given that their wind resource is generally poorer (meaning lower output and hence lower returns), this suggests that wind will not be playing anywhere near the role in Australia's electricity future as it will here.


It is astonishing how we've gone from the sole Brooklyn turbine above Wellington in the 1990s to at least 1 GW of current and proposed generation in ten years. This is a wonderful achievement, and validated not only but the low cost of wind energy, but also by the PM's speech on Saturday, calling for New Zealand to become the world's first truly sustainable country. We won't be able to achieve that without a significant increase in installed wind capacity.

However, you are correct to identify the Central Otago issue as tricky. The landscapes down there are of national, if not international importance, but we know that the RMA is not well-equipped to deal with landscape effects. For the moment I'm in support of the farm, but it is a difficult position to take.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/31/2006 12:11:00 PM

Peter: well, we're certainly on the way to making it happen. A recent report for the Ministry of Economic Development [PDF; back page] noted that we have 2 GW of projects under investigation - and that counts neither Project hayesor Trustpower's planned site at Mahinerangi.

Project Hayes is very tricky. I've been to Central Otago and I agree that the windfarm would change the landscape forever, so if we decide to build it, it will be a real sacrifice. So I'm currently on the fence as to whether I want to see it happen or not. But at least some of the locals have organised themselves to fight it, which means the issue will at least get the thorough going over it deserves (and yes, I expect it'll eventually end up in the environment court - which might give us more guidance on landscape issues).

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/31/2006 12:55:00 PM

Very interesting, thank you for that. That puts the figure with Project Hayes and the Mahinerangi proposal close to 3GW. Hence the need to seriously upgrade the national grid to cope with the inevitable unpredicatable changes in power flow direction that come with an increased reliance on wind. Many people have not yet made the connection between renewables and a strong national grid.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/31/2006 02:30:00 PM

Peter: yup - and in particular we're going to have to upgrade the Cook Strait Cable if we're adding any significant new generation in the South Island.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/31/2006 03:21:00 PM

Wind power is interesting because the impact on perception (i.e. we can see the turbines and they stick out like the proverbial) probably outweighs every other impact. Compare with flooding a valley for hydro power, for instance, where the impact is mostly below the eyeline but is felt both downstream, and in the flooded area in a far more concrete fashion.

Re: Australia. If ever a country was in a perfect position to make a go of solar power in some form...

Posted by Chris : 10/31/2006 04:41:00 PM

Just a quick thought - why are wind turbines painted white - the most obvious, intrusive and visible colour?

Surely painting them in dull earth tones would significantly reduce their visual impact...


Posted by Anonymous : 11/01/2006 11:42:00 AM

Milou: at a quick guess, they don't want anyone to fly into them.

OTOH, the turbines at Te Rere Hau are a low-visibility grey, and so rather less obvious than the neighbouring ones at Tararua 3.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/01/2006 11:52:00 AM