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Current as of 19/12/14 07:40PM NZST

Makara wind project could be one of world's best

By Chris Daniels

State-owned power company Meridian's plans for one of the world's biggest and most productive windfarms is generating debate over the installation of turbines in areas of natural beauty.

The planned 210MW farm at Makara, west of Wellington - with 70 turbines, each more than 100m tall - will be one of the biggest windfarms in the world.

Meridian is hoping that the growing popularity of such farms with the Government and environmentalists will give Project West Wind more chance of success than the Project Aqua hydro scheme that it abandoned last year.

The company has already built the Te Apiti farm in the Manawatu, the largest in Australasia, generating 90MW from 55 turbines.

By comparison, the Huntly power station, New Zealand's biggest, can put out 1000MW of electricity.

Generating at full strength, the $360 million West Wind farm could meet the needs of 110,000 average homes - equivalent to every home in Wellington City, Lower Hutt and Porirua.

The farm has an advantage in that it could be built quickly, generating power within two years of gaining consent.

But Makara residents have long feared development of a windfarm on the site and it is not the first time such a plan has been floated.

Opposition is being led by a group named the Makara Guardians, who claim the struggle for their 128-household community is something of a David vs Goliath battle.

"It just seems amazing they would have gone and done something like this," said guardian Peter Shearer.

"We're fighting a state-owned enterprise with extremely deep pockets which has been wanting to do something like this for about eight or nine years now. They've been lobbying and working away in the background.

"We're going to have to say as a nation, there has got to be certain places where these things are not appropriate. And we're saying Quartz Hill is one of them."

Meridian says the project has the potential to be the best-performing windfarm in the world.

Wind Energy Association chief executive James Glennie said the world's biggest windfarm on the Washington State/Oregon border was rated at 260MW, but had much lower wind speeds than Makara and could not generate as much power as West Wind.

He said recent windfarm developments in Southland and the Manawatu encountered minimal opposition so there was no reason this idea would not succeed in the same way.

"They've done their homework. I would suspect that this will go through pretty quickly because they've done the work."

Meridian chief executive Keith Turner said the 55sq km site had been identified as one of the best in the world for a windfarm.

The "funnelling effect" of Cook Strait made it an ideal location for wind-power generation.

The farm would generate electricity more than 90 per cent of the time, operating at full capacity about 47 per cent of the time - more than double the international average.

Meridian originally wanted 107 turbines in the farm but cut back its plan to 70 turbines so none could be seen from Makara Beach or the Cook Strait ferries.

Other projects in the wind:

* Meridian will start construction next month of a big windfarm at White Hill in Southland.
* This farm will have 29 turbines, each generating 2MW of electricity. Meridian chief executive Keith Turner said it would produce enough power to supply about 30,000 homes - or nearly every household in the Southland District and Invercargill City area.
* If all goes according to plan, the farm is expected to produce its first power in April or May next year and be fully commissioned by the third quarter of 2006.
* There were no appeals against the granting of resource consent for the White Hill project.
* Meridian is also planning a large windfarm in western Victoria, Australia. Known as the Macarther farm, this $500 million project would involve 250 turbines generating 350MW of electricity, making it the world's biggest windfarm.
* TrustPower is planning to build two windfarms in South Australia. It was the pioneer of large windfarm development in New Zealand with its Tararua farm near Palmerston North.
* Genesis is in the midst of an Environment Court appeal seeking to build a 19-turbine, 20MW farm near Waiuku, south of Auckland.
* Now adjourned for a break, the case is due to resume in two weeks, with a final decision not expected for another couple of months.
* NZ Wind Farms, a subsidiary of listed company Windflow, is about to start work on its own farm on the Tararuas. It wants to install 104 of its twin-bladed turbines developed here in New Zealand. They will be painted a special "jungle mist" colour, rather than the usual white. This is designed to help the turbines blend into the surrounding farmland.
* New capacity totalling 70MW has gained consents in the past six months and more than 450MW, not including the West Wind project, is now in the consent process, according to the Wind Energy Association.

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