A proposal to build New Zealand's biggest wind farm along Waikato's remote west coast between Te Akau and Port Waikato is being welcomed by residents and politicians.
Contact Energy yesterday revealed plans for a $2 billion project in which 218 giant turbines would be built on a series of windswept ridges slightly inland, along a 40km stretch of barely inhabited coast.
The wind farm will be known as Hauauru ma raki, meaning northwest wind, of which there is plenty along the isolated Te Akau coast, where many trees grow sideways.
At peak the wind farm will produce up to 650MW, enough to energise 250,000 households, and rate as the biggest wind farm in the southern hemisphere.
Waikato District Mayor Peter Harris was delighted at the prospect of Contact Energy upgrading some of the district's most neglected roads and bridges in order to import 150m-tall turbines.
"I see this project as a win-win for everyone," he said. "The cost of roading is extreme for us.
"Waikato is becoming the energy capital of New Zealand with our coal mines, the Huntly Power Station, the Te Uku wind farm, and now this."
Just as enthusiastic was Andrew Glenn, one of 20 farmers to sign up for the project. He will host up to 11 turbines on his 800ha Waimai Valley Rd property.
"These wind farms have to be the goal for us and the country," he said. "The country needs power, and they will get less resistance to such projects out here.
"This will help improve our infrastructure," he added, noting the Waimai Valley was a place where residents often found themselves flooded in for days at a time in winter.
Contact chief executive David Baldwin said the project would inject $100 million into the Waikato economy, and avoid 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted annually. Further, unlike other wind farms, it would be close to the major energy demand centres.
Contact hopes to have the turbines delivering energy to the national grid by 2010, with consent applications submitted by the end of the year.
The most controversial aspect of the proposal, in the wake of rural ill-feeling about giant power pylons, could be the 28km, 220kV transmission line, featuring 40m towers, needed to connect the wind farm to the national grid near Pukekawa.
Mr Baldwin said Contact promised "to engage well with the community" and "work in a transparent way to ensure everybody's voice is heard". It would also be working to enhance recreational and amenity values in the district. That included the possibility of opening access to some west coast beaches.
"We see this project as a significant step for Contact, a great step for the Waikato area, and the country as a whole in terms of the national interest objective of a renewables-based future.
"Hauauru ma raki is nationally significant both in terms of meeting New Zealand's growth in demand for electricity and for the development of clean, renewable electricity for current and future generations."
- © Fairfax NZ News