After 11 years of lobbying, fundraising, testing, and building, the Waipipi Wind Farm north of Waverley finally came to life this week with the first four wind turbines switched on.
The $227 million project, built and owned by Australian and New Zealand based company Tilt Renewables, involves the construction of 31 identical turbines which will contribute about 455 GWh per year to New Zealand's power grid - enough to power 65,000 homes, four times as many as Whanganui.
The renewable energy generated is the equivalent of a reduction of 250,000 tonnes of carbon.
The soon-to-be-completed project is a joint partnership between Tilt and Genesis Energy.
Under the partnership agreement, Tilt Renewables owns and operates the wind farm, while Genesis purchases the electricity generated. Genesis then manages the wind farm's output and offers it into the electricity market, or national grid, for trading.
According to Tilt, there will be three to four fulltime staff based at the farm once completed. Communication links will be established between Waipipi's control room and the Genesis Renewable Energy Control Centre at Tokaanu near Taupō.
The Chronicle was on the ground this week driving around the site with Genesis CEO Marc England and Tilt Renewables CEO Deion Campbell.
"It's remarkable to see so up close," England said.
The coastal location of the farm, which spreads across four different properties and 800 hectares, was previously an iron sand mine. The flat ground was ideal for the construction of turbines.
"Unfortunately in New Zealand we also get liquefaction, so we've had to turn sand into something stiffer, so we built large columns of stone underneath the turbines," Campbell said.
The turbines are the largest in New Zealand, substantially bigger than turbines at other wind farms, such as the Tararua Wind Farm near Palmerston North.
According to site manager Stewart Reid, the turbines were specifically chosen for the South Taranaki coast.
"These machines just wouldn't survive in Tararua. It would be like putting a V8 in a mini."
Genesis CEO Marc England said it was great for the two companies to be able to work together.
"It's not always obvious, but in the electricity market there's a lot of uncertainty right now, particularly around issues such as whether Tiwai will go or stay. This project is a welcome progression."
Genesis, the country's largest power company, also operates Huntly Power Station, one of the last remaining stations in the country that continues to use gas and coal for power generation.
England said projects like Waipipi are a great example of the company attempting to move away from more environmentally harmful practices.
"We have a strategy to displace 2650 GWh of base load thermal as we call it, and transition that to renewable. Waipipi is another step in that transition.
"We will continue to look for further opportunities to transition our base load thermal generation portfolio to renewables including new solar, wind, and geothermal generation projects."
The construction of the farm, which involves about 100 staff at any time, hasn't been without its difficulties.
During the alert level 4 lockdown, construction had to stop, meaning the site wasn't operational until level 3. Construction teams also encountered difficulty when overseas experts required for construction weren't permitted to enter the country, requiring Tilt to apply to the Government for special exemption status.
There have been logistical problems, too. In June, a truck transporting a 64m-long turbine tipped south of Okatō while en route to the farm, creating traffic delays for people heading into New Plymouth.
Tilt Renewables CEO Deion Campbell said despite some issues, "it proves that we can deliver on our reputation of being a credible independent developer of renewable energy assets".
"The fact that our project construction partners coped so well with the current international environment proves we selected them well and then effectively managed the contractual interfaces and risks. We get it done."
All going to plan, the wind farm will be fully operational by the first quarter of 2021. There are expected to be 16 turbines in operation by the end of this month.
The turbines are expected to last about 30 years.
Decisions on the future of the site will be made in 20 years.