Ohariu wind farm ready to roll

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
BUSINESS REPORTER
Last updated 08:15 16/06/2012
Ohariu Valley
Fairfax NZ

NEW PROJECT: An aerial shot of Ohariu Valley, site of Meridian Energy's latest wind farm, Mill Creek, a 26-turbine, 59MW facility.

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Work on a major new wind farm near Wellington is expected to begin within two months, starting with a project to widen and straighten the road into the Ohariu Valley.

Meridian Energy, generator of more than a third of New Zealand's electricity, yesterday confirmed it was going ahead with the 26-turbine, $169million Mill Creek wind farm.

Meridian estimates the project will inject $45m into the Wellington economy, providing about 100 fulltime jobs during construction.

The 59 megawatt wind farm, due for completion in mid-2014, could generate enough electricity for 30,000 homes.

From the air, Mill Creek will eventually look like an extension of West Wind, Meridian's 142-megawatt wind farm a few kilometres to the south.

But unlike West Wind, where turbines were moved by barge to a pier, Mill Creek will be accessed by road.

The first part of the project will be taken up by improving access roads to transport the 67-metre turbine shafts to the site.

Mark Binns, Meridian's chief executive, said Mill Creek's design should make construction more straightforward than the earlier project, although no major project was simple.

"You don't want to tempt fate, because construction projects are construction projects, but let me say, this one has been well thought through, and risk items have been mitigated to the extent they possibly can be."

Since joining Meridian in January, Binns has cut back Meridian's development pipeline, including abandoning Project Hayes, a huge and controversial proposed Central Otago wind farm.

His insistence that Mill Creek remains viable while cancelling other projects appears to have boosted the project's credibility within the electricity market, at a time when Meridian's rivals claim over capacity and low demand growth make new projects unviable.

"We wouldn't be doing it if the numbers weren't compelling," Binns said, claiming the project would cost $80 to $85 per megawatt hour, and that with even "modest" demand-growth it would be lucrative for the company.

"We do have a view that demand [for electricity] will grow again. I don't believe that we're going to be flat-lining for the next 10 years as some people suggest."

Higgins, the Palmerston North company that helped clear a major slip in the Manawatu Gorge, will conduct the civil works for the Mill Creek project, and Siemens will supply and install the turbines. Both companies played similar roles in the building of West Wind.

Mill Creek is not without staunch opposition, with a group of local residents unsuccessfully appealing against resource consents to the Environment Court in 2011.

While Meridian held a celebratory lunch yesterday, Ohariu Valley Preservation Society president Siobhan Lilley said the society would focus on ensuring contractors adhered to consent conditions.

Contact Hamish Rutherford
Business reporter
Email: hamish.rutherford@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @oneforthedr

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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