Another wind farm approved.

By Bryan Walker 16/08/2011

Bit by bit wind energy in New Zealand continues to make progress. It was announced today that the Environment Court has upheld resource consent for Meridian’s proposed Mill Creek wind farm in the Ohariu Valley north-west of Wellington.

The decision grants approval for 26 of the 31 turbines applied for, resulting in a combined capacity of 60MW. The five turbines were excluded due to adverse effects on nearby rural lifestyle properties. It’s over three years since the resource consent application was lodged, so it certainly hasn’t happened in a hurry.

The farm grew out of a decision by a group of farmers to form a company over a decade ago. They sought tenders to develop the wind farm to maximise the value of farming their land for wind as well as through traditional pastoral methods. Meridian was chosen.

Consistent wind speeds mean that the project at Mill Creek can generate electricity over 90% of the time. The 31 turbines originally applied for were estimated to be able to generate enough to power the equivalent of 35,000 average homes.

The new CEO of the NZ Wind Energy Association Eric Pyle has, understandably, welcomed the decision as another positive step forward. He comments on a couple of aspects of the court’s decision. One is that they adopted the new NZS:6808 wind farm noise standard published last year to update the 1998 version. ’This validates the hard work the industry has put in to help develop this standard.’

The other pleasing feature he mentioned was that the Court decision focused on the environmental effects of the wind farm and strongly supported the view that debates about economic viability of a wind farm belong in the board room, not the court room.

No doubt economic viability will determine when (though hopefully not if) Meridian proceeds with the project. But at least the way is now open. I look forward to the day when estimates for New Zealand wind farms’ contribution will not be expressed only in how many homes they can supply, but also how many electric vehicles they can power — in the process, as I wrote in an earlier post,  smoothing the peaks and troughs of electricity supply so efficiently they could triple the country’s capacity to use wind power. A much more interesting prospect than the pursuit of fossil fuel mining that the government is so fixated on.