THE NEW POWER GENERATION
Over the years New Zealand's landscape has proved to be as functional as it is beautiful. Thanks to an abundance of wind, water and geothermal activity, we are way ahead of most industrialised nations in terms of renewable power generation and use.
In the last quarter it was reported that 79% of our electricity was generated by renewable resources, and research suggests there is plenty more where that came from. But there is no such thing as a free lunch. If New Zealand energy use continues its rise we will face some tough choices and challenges to continue to meet demand while minimising carbon emissions and the impact on our environment.
As New Zealand's largest 100% renewable energy generator, Meridian Energy is a key player in shaping this country's energy future. The people they work with, and how they work with them, are vital to our clean energy future.
One of the realities of trying to increase New Zealand's renewable energy supply is the need to place big bits of infrastructure in somebody's back yard, or at least in their view.
Maureen Reynolds saw rst-hand how this process can work, as former mayor of Tararua District, near Palmerston North. In 2004, Meridian completed the Te Apiti wind farm, the rst in New Zealand to supply electricity directly into the National Grid, to the north of nearby Manawatu Gorge. Te Apiti produces 360GWh from 55 turbines, enough power for about 45,000 average homes.
Maureen says the local community was aware of Meridian's interest for a while, and were familiar with wind farms, as the Trustpower Tararua wind farm had already been built on the other side of the gorge.
"I have always been quite accepting of them. I think they look quite elegant," she says. "People don't realise that if there was not some other form of energy New Zealand was not going to have enough to go round. We needed to build on the energy we got from hydro. If the energy companies of New Zealand don't do something about it we'll soon be sitting in the dark in the winter. And this is much better than nuclear!"
The company was committed to hearing objectors out and providing as much information as possible on what was proposed. This included open days and face-to-face meetings with the public, as well as keeping the council fully informed. Maureen, who didn't sit on the consent panel, said she believed it was this "homework" that helped the consenting process run smoothly.
But not everything did. In February 2004 the area suffered severe ooding, which closed local roads and destroyed the Ashurst Bridge on Saddle Road, the key access to the site. Locals and Meridian staff alike rallied to stabilise things.
"Meridian worked with local people and engaged local companies to do various parts of the work for them," said Maureen. "That was a major thing that brought the community on side."
Not long after the 70-metre towers started going up, and the
35-metre-long turbine blades made their laborious journey by truck from the Port of Napier.
"When I saw the scale of them, I thought, wow!" said Maureen. "It was like a grand parade, everybody was out on the footpath watching, it was just amazing how fascinated people were."
Maureen acknowledges that not everybody may be as enthusiastic about the turbines as she is. But as well as making a big contribution to New Zealand's sustainable energy supply, Te Apiti has certainly sparked the interest of tourists visiting what the locals call 'Woodville - the Wind Farm Capital of New Zealand'.
Maureen says other benefits have included improvements to the farming landscape where the turbines are, new roads and fencing and a $100,000 contestable fund over three years for local projects.
"I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody has taken a picture of them!" says Maureen.