Element - - Sponsor Case Study -

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.

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