The Waipipi Wind Farm is a "complete success" - finished on time, under budget and making money for shareholders, Tilt Renewables chief executive Deion Campbell says.
"It's actually windy at our wind farm. That's a rare thing at openings."
He addressed a group of about 70 at the farm's official opening at its coastal Waverley site on Tuesday, June 22. Tilt's Melbourne-based staff got to New Zealand on a "green flight" because they had recent negative tests for Covid-19.
At the moment of opening, the farm's 31 turbines were the biggest in New Zealand for both rotors and generators. The farm is also the first to be independently financed.
Tilt Renewables put in some equity and borrowed from a bank. What got the project over the line was Genesis Energy's guarantee of buying its electricity for 20 years.
"It's the only way for a small developer like us to do it. [Genesis] has really enabled a change in the way New Zealand's assets can be built," Campbell said.
The build has had its ups and downs. Work stopped for five or six weeks during the Covid-19 lockdown, and after that overseas experts were unable to get here.
"We couldn't bring the experts required to get the damn things up," Campbell said.
Then there was the "most extreme below ground uncertainty that we have ever had" - the challenge of constructing turbines securely on loose sandy soil.
Restored wetlands have been a plus. Another is permanent access to a formerly landlocked 20ha and an annual $25,000 fund for the community to spend.
In all the 310,000 hours of building work, only one person needed time off due to injury.
Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy staff will be on site for the next 30 years to keep the wind farm running, but its ownership is about to change.
In 42 days ownership will pass to buyer Mercury New Zealand, subject to the approval of Tilt shareholders. Tilt's four-member New Zealand team, including Stewart Reid and Jim Pearson, will have the option to work for Mercury.
Mercury general manager Phil Gibson said he hoped they would and he looked forward to their expertise in decarbonising the electricity sector.
Archaeologists were on site during the build to make sure pre-1900 remains were protected. Most of the site had already been mined for iron-sand, archaeologist Annetta Sutton said.
The archaeologists, with iwi monitors, found the remains of a late-1800s ditch and bank fence and the concrete land anchors used by dredges in the Waipipi Iron Sands operation.
A coastal strip with remnants from pre-European fishing and shellfish collecting is protected from development.
South Taranaki iwi Ngā Rauru's connection with the wind farm dated back to Trustpower days, governance board member Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata said.
"All of this, I think, is based on good solid relationships between the parties."
The tribe was glad to have access to the 20ha Waipipi block, via the access road to Turbine 13, she said. Tilt made a car park at the block, using waste shellrock.
The land is swampy, and people from all over the area used to gather there to fish in summer, then move inland in winter.
"There are a lot of reefs along here covered in mussels, and there are lots of snapper. People still walk across the land to go fishing," Tama Pokai said.
Warwick Lupton and David Alexander own most of the 980ha wind farm site. Lupton said it had cost them a lot to get it happening.
Their first prospect was Allco Wind Energy, but that went into receivership. The cousins managed to retrieve the wind data they had kept and chose Trustpower after looking for another company.
"We believed they would build it," Lupton said.
Tilt Renewables was later split out of Trustpower.
The owners were unable to say how much they were paid for having turbines across their dry stock farm, but Lupton said the money helped to cushion the price fluctuations of farming.