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Blowing in an uncertain wind

Wind power - the great green hope to ease fragile electricity supply - is being buffetted from all sides. Wind farm neighbours, courts and economics are hammering away at plans to expand the industry which now provides around 3 per cent of our power but is forecast to grow to 20 per cent within the next 15 years. Wind's main proponent, state-owned Meridian Energy, is likely within the next few days to announce it will fight an Environment Court ruling which killed off one of the biggest wind farms in the world.

Wind power - the great green hope to ease fragile electricity supply - is being buffetted from all sides.

Wind farm neighbours, courts and economics are hammering away at plans to expand the industry which now provides around 3 per cent of our power but is forecast to grow to 20 per cent within the next 15 years.

Wind's main proponent, state-owned Meridian Energy, is likely within the next few days to announce it will fight an Environment Court ruling which killed off one of the biggest wind farms in the world, the $2 billion Project Hayes in Central Otago.

This will reignite a fight with opponents including former All Blacks, an artist and a poet and challenge the court which agreed that economic justification did not outweigh environmental impacts.

Any appeal over the Hayes decision would be to the High Court on points of law but driving it is Meridian's contention that any large infrastructure project would now struggle to get over the bar set by the Environment Court.

Near Wellington, neighbours of Meridian's Project West Wind complain of sleepless nights and feeling "seasick".

Energy companies have for the past two years done a lot of prospecting for... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Wind power - the great green hope to ease fragile electricity supply - is being buffetted from all sides.

Wind farm neighbours, courts and economics are hammering away at plans to expand the industry which now provides around 3 per cent of our power but is forecast to grow to 20 per cent within the next 15 years.

Wind's main proponent, state-owned Meridian Energy, is likely within the next few days to announce it will fight an Environment Court ruling which killed off one of the biggest wind farms in the world, the $2 billion Project Hayes in Central Otago.

This will reignite a fight with opponents including former All Blacks, an artist and a poet and challenge the court which agreed that economic justification did not outweigh environmental impacts.

Any appeal over the Hayes decision would be to the High Court on points of law but driving it is Meridian's contention that any large infrastructure project would now struggle to get over the bar set by the Environment Court.

Near Wellington, neighbours of Meridian's Project West Wind complain of sleepless nights and feeling "seasick".

Energy companies have for the past two years done a lot of prospecting for wind sites but have mainly been holding back on going ahead with projects because the figures don't stack up.

New Zealand, with its prevailing westerly winds in the Roaring Forties, has some of the best wind resource in the world. It is free and in a carbon constrained market, a fuel of the future.

So why has wind farming fallen out of favour? Besides the economic challenge it mainly comes down to who lives nearby.

Like most power, we like using it but don't like seeing it being made.

Project backers have long had to deal with claims that birds and bats fall victim to the massive blades but one of the more bizarre claims this year came from Taiwan where a farmer claimed hundreds of his goats had died through sleep deprivation because of noise from a nearby wind farm. Reports could not be found to substantiate the claim.

In this country there's been a messy scrap between pioneer turbine maker Windflow Technology and its only customer, NZ Windfarms, which had withheld payments while seeking greater technical reassurance. There is a thaw in the impasse but it did give encouragement to wind power sceptics' view the industry is still towards the fringe.

Contact Energy hasn't helped the cause either, stalling its own 540MW Waikato project by calling for a year's delay in a hearing it had previously described as urgent. Opposition from well organised and in some cases wealthy neighbours, and failure to get all its ducks in a row led to the backtrack by Contact, which conceded it was a victim of its own overconfidence.

It is now concentrating on geothermal development, although still pursuing two wind farm consents so it is ready to go ahead with them when the economics are not so challenging.

The big projects make for big targets.

In 2006, then-Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams warned the mega-project philosophy, dominated by state owned enterprises (SOEs) was bound to lead to tension. He urged more community ownership of wind farms to avoid losing local support for them.

At Makara near Wellington there was never much local support for the West Wind project and there's even less now it's producing power from 62 turbines, measuring 110m from ground level to blade tip. Around 300 people live within 2km of the project and complain their peace has been shattered.

One resident, Hans Renner, said what used to be a tranquil valley has been transformed by the windfarm on the hills.

"Quite often you used to be able to hear a cow fart in the next door neighbour's farm and that's a kilometre away."

The joinery business owner says hearing problems mean he is particularly sensitive to the low frequency noise emanating from the windfarm.

"I can hear it, obviously, but I can also feel it."

Renner says the lack of sleep riled him so much one night that he tracked down Meridian chief executive Tim Lusk to his Martinborough holiday home and phoned him to complain at 4.30 one morning.

"We chatted for 15 minutes - he seemed like a reasonable bloke."

Noise levels vary according to the wind direction and speed. It was most obvious at night when trying to sleep.

"On Saturday or Sunday afternoon people come out here, stay for the afternoon, go home and wonder what the fuss is about. If you're out here after 11pm you'll known what we're complaining about."

The Makara Guardians was formed 12 years ago to oppose windfarming and past president Jenny Jorgensen said she had no objection to the turbines as long as they were far away from houses.

"The impact has been sleep deprivation and outside I get a feeling of seasickness."

Meridian has been bombarded with around 100 complaints a month since the farm started operating in April.

Spokesman Alan Seay said he was not surprised at the level of opposition but said the company was confident the project complied with noise standards.

In the interests of being a "good neighbour" Meridian was working with the turbine manufacturer Siemens to reduce noise.

Meridian, responsible for generating almost a third of the country's power, all from renewable sources, felt squeezed, said Seay. "The frustrating thing about this is that we get told by the Makara Guardians that wind power is fine but not near them or near houses. We go down to Central Otago where we're a million miles away from houses and we can't build one there either."

The country had decisions to make, he said. "If we want most of our power to come from renewable sources and we're ruling out wind ... then we're never going to achieve that."

Meridian's wind development manager Adam Muldoon also hit out at what is now widespread scepticism within the industry about the financial viability of wind power.

He said evidence that helped sway the Environment Court was "oversimplistic". Calculations needed to take in the company's energy mix - how wind complements its hydro generation - and extremely detailed analysis of 1000 price paths and hundreds of different wind forecasts.

Muldoon acknowledged the economics were challenging but any power project that relied on imported equipment was.

Engineering and technical specialists Aurecon have done work on wind energy projects in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Europe. It uses numerical weather prediction models to simulate the physics of the atmosphere and calculate wind speeds at a given location anywhere in the world for the past 50 years.

Blair Walter, Aurecon's renewable energy leader, says for wind projects to be viable they must hit the economic sweet spot and conform to a complex series of criteria.

Ideal sites are elevated and exposed to the west with gently sloping terrain, there must be road access, grid connection and they have to avoid getting tripped over by environmental impacts including visual impacts and noise.

As a rule of thumb, long-term power prices are around $70 to $80 per megawatt hour and most wind farms at the moment cost the equivalent of more than $100 per megawatt hour to build with high turbine prices, although manufacturing in China could improve supply.

Governments in European countries, South Africa and Australia effectively subsidised wind power.

'We're a bit proud in New Zealand because we've built projects without needing a subsidy. If you look back 10 years wind was marginal but just waiting for that little push or change in conditions for it to go big. Not a lot has changed in those conditions."

TrustPower has long established wind farms in Manawatu and says conditions are improving to build a small part of a 200MW project at Mahinerangi near Dunedin. It could make a decision to go ahead in January.

Spokesman Graeme Purches said the market for turbines was competitive and the exchange rate favourable.

"Sometimes you look at the delays caused by the RMA but in a perverse way they're helpful because the technology is improving all the time.

"We'll end up with a better wind farm at Mahinerangi than we'd have been able to build two years ago."


Source: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/b...

NOV 28 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/23376-blowing-in-an-uncertain-wind
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