New jobs if power plant grows

By Peter de Graaf

An expansion of Ngawha's geothermal power station would turn the Far North into an electricity exporter and create new jobs in an area where employment is badly needed.

Lines company and generator Top Energy already owns and operates a 25MW (megawatt) geothermal plant east of Kaikohe but has been buying up land for a possible expansion to 100MW.

If it goes ahead that would be more than enough to power the Far North and meet more than half of Northland's total 180MW needs. Far North consumption ranges from 22MW to a peak of 85MW.

Chief executive Russell Shaw said the company had been studying the Ngawha geothermal field - the country's biggest outside the Volcanic Plateau - since 2007 to work out how much electricity or heat could be produced.

''Although we won't know exactly what we have until we explore through test drilling, we believe there could be enough resource for an additional 100MW of energy.''

That would power every household in the Far North with enough left over to export electricity to the rest of Northland. It also created opportunities for new industry and new jobs in the Kaikohe area, Mr Shaw said.

However, the project is still a long way from being realised with even exploratory drilling yet to begin. Top Energy plans to apply for drilling consents next year.

Mr Shaw said the company was working closely with economic development agency Northland Inc to attract an industry that could use the extra power or heat from geothermal fluid. Wood processing, dairy plants and aquaculture all used large amounts of heat in their industrial processes as well as electricity.

''Just one of these production plants could create as many as 200 new jobs in the immediate area,'' he said.

The plant itself, however, would employ 22, double the current 11. About 60 people would be employed in the construction phase.

Top Energy already owned most of the land needed for the expansion but had recently bought a new site, a dairy farm between Remuera Settlement Rd and State Highway 12.

If test drilling revealed adequate geothermal resources, the company would lodge a resource consent application in 2015 to build a power station or steam generating plant. Electricity could start flowing in 2020, coinciding with a predicted increase in national demand.

The expansion would see four more Israeli-built 25MW Ormat power plants added to the existing one built in 2008.

The estimated $500 million required would be raised from loans and new investors. The company would now start consulting affected parties, Mr Shaw said.

''It's still early days, however we're optimistic that we can create new opportunities for the region and we intend to work closely with the community and local residents to do that.''


Powering Northland


  • 5MW Wairua hydroelectric station near Titoki (Northpower).

  • 25MW Ngawha geothermal power plant near Kaikohe (Top Energy). Expanded from 15MW in 2009 at a cost of $77m.


  • 100MW expanded Ngawha power plant, estimated cost $500m (Top Energy).

  • 100MW wind farm proposal near Ahipara (Meridian).

  • 200MW tidal turbine station proposal in Kaipara Harbour (Crest Energy).

  • 300MW wind farm proposal near Pouto (Meridian).

  • Northland's current total consumption is around 180MW. The Far North's share ranges from 22-85MW.

- Northern Advocate

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