Some news recently bought a smile to my dial. Mercury Energy has pushed the “go” button on a major new wind farm near Palmerston North; work begins in August and the farm will start operating from late 2020.
Mercury has committed to the construction of the first 33 of 60 consented wind turbines at Turitea near Palmerston North, representing a key milestone in New Zealand’s renewable energy development.
Mercury’s Chief Executive, Fraser Whineray, says that current market conditions indicate that new renewable energy capacity is required for New Zealand, and Mercury is pleased to step forward with a wind farm development it has been working towards for 15 years [note: it’s not that these things take 15 years to plan, it’s just that power demand has been very flat in the last decade, so power companies have been cautious about building new plants].
The 119MW Turitea wind farm will generate 470 [Gigawatt hours] per annum on average, enough electricity to power 210,000 cars. When generation connects to the national grid at Linton, with commissioning expected to begin from late 2020, Turitea will be New Zealand’s third largest wind farm. It will be the first large-scale generation addition to New Zealand’s capacity since 2014.
“The estimated $256 million project supports the opening up of a further $750 million investment opportunity in wind energy development,” Mr Whineray said.
Transmission and other infrastructure from this project is scaled to support the development of the remaining 27 turbines at Turitea and on the Puketoi range to the east, where Mercury has consents to construct a 53-turbine wind farm.
There’s a bunch of statistics in there, but here’s the map which shows what Mercury is doing – extending a major new transmission line, and committing to the first 33 of 60 potential wind turbines:
On completion, this will be the third-largest wind farm in New Zealand. There’s a bit more information about it here, including an ‘aerial photo’ version of the map above, and some quite nice things which Mercury say about wind:
“Wind is now the premier generation development technology in NZ. High resource quality and technological improvement have driven improved economics”.
Like Meridian Energy, Mercury does much of its marketing on the basis that it only owns renewable power plants – hydro, geothermal and wind. They also mention solar as part of this “awesome foursome”, but that’s just marketing gloss really; they’ve only got a small ‘research and development’ site, although the symbolism is quite neat as it’s on the site of the former gas power plant in Southdown, near Otahuhu.
Hydro and wind work well together, because hydro can be dialled up and down quite easily (and quickly) to balance out the times when the wind isn’t blowing well. As Mercury put it:
“Turitea complements Mercury’s existing baseload geothermal and flexible hydro assets: all North Island located, close to major load centres; ability to utilise flexibility of Waikato Hydro Scheme to ‘firm’ intermittency of wind”.
Currently, NZ generates a little over 2,000 Gigawatt-hours of electricity from wind each year, so this new farm could add 20% to NZ’s wind power production.
For those who are interested – hey, who wouldn’t be? – Mercury ran a Q&A session, and you’ll be able to read the transcript later today..
So what else is new with electricity since I last wrote about it two years ago? New Zealand keeps gradually transitioning towards renewable sources of power, with coal and gas starting to wind down (more slowly, in the case of gas). MBIE have a graph below, which shows hydro as NZ’s number-one source of power since forever, with geothermal overtaking gas to become number-two a few years ago, and wind overtaking coal to become number-four.
Mercury’s announcement, and various statements from the other power companies, suggest that any new power plants in NZ are likely to be in the North Island (where any demand growth will be, and there are no annoying aluminium smelters to hold their feet to the fire), with geothermal and wind being the main new sources.
However, the economics of solar keep improving too, and although I’ve been sceptical of it in the past, it’s looking more and more possible that solar will start to take off in NZ. Even so, it might still be such a small fraction of the whole that it’s hard to see in a graph like the one above – after all, it took wind a long time to come this far – but there are quite a few applications where solar could make sense. More on that later, perhaps!