State-owned electricity giant Meridian Energy has shelved the construction of its major windfarm project between Napier and Taupo because of drop-off in supply demand amid the closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in Southland.
The Harapaki Windfarm Project emerged from two separate proposals for the Maungaharuru Range project, 35km northwest of Napier and first mooted more than 15 years ago.
It proposes 41 turbines capable of delivering enough renewable energy to power around 70,000 average homes, supporting New Zealand's goal of reducing carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, the company says.
The deferral has been announced by Meridian Harapiki project manager Robert Batters in a newsletter for residents and other stakeholders.
A major factor is the closure of the smelter, which uses close to 13 per cent of New Zealand's electricity supply, but Energy Minister Megan Woods said this week a "range" of discussions were still taking place.
Meridian chief executive Neal Barclay was quoted as saying midweek he believed Rio Tinto, which announced the closure in June with an August 31 deadline, was having further discussions with the Government over its electricity transmission bills, which are charged by Transpower.
Despite a Meridian proposal to smelter owner Rio Tinto to delay the closure with a four-year deal on power prices, the plant is expected to close over the next few days.
Regarding its options with the windfarm, Meridian had also considered impacts from the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, which had arrived just as Meridian was doing what Batters had called in a previous newsletter "a lot of work to get us deployment-ready" if the go-ahead had been given by the Meridian board.
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In the August newsletter, delivered in recent days, Batters said: "With these factors in mind, the Meridian Energy Board has decided to defer the construction of the Harapaki wind farm.
"While we strongly believe in the economic benefits this construction project will bring in terms of employment opportunities as well as providing clean, renewable energy for New Zealand, this year has presented us with many unexpected challenges and uncertainties, and we think it wise to delay the construction until we are clear of them," he said.
"As stakeholders in this wind farm, we know the decision to defer, and the uncertainty it creates, will be frustrating. We will review the build decision in due course with spring 2021 being the earliest possible commencement date."
He confirmed Meridian remains committed to the windfarm "and the benefits it will bring to the Hawke's Bay community".
The site consists of two adjacent wind farm sites - Hawke's Bay Wind Farm and Titiokura Wind Farm - that were originally consented in 2006 to Hawke's Bay Wind Farm Limited and Unison Network Limited.
In 2010, Meridian purchased the consents for both sites. Since then, Meridian has spent a significant amount of time researching the site, studying its wind patterns and geography to determine the best layout that would complement the landscape while optimising the wind resource.