We’re al­ready sit­ting pretty, with three quar­ters of our elec­tric­ity com­ing from clean, re­new­able sources. But can we achieve 90 per cent by 2025, and will we ever make it to 100%?

Element - - Finance - By Adam Gif­ford

When Jeff Wil­son goes out for a Sun­day drive, his eyes are al­ways on the look-out for sites for hy­dro power schemes. He’s al­ready done one on the Talla Burn River in Cen­tral Otago. The 2.3MW Paul Wil­son Sta­tion is one of the few pri­vately fi­nanced, de­vel­oped and op­er­ated hy­dro sta­tions in the coun­try, de­liv­er­ing around 13GW of elec­tric­ity a year to power more than 1000 house­holds be­tween Raes Junc­tion and Clyde. Ear­lier this year the scheme was Highly Com­mended at the EECA awards.

It’s named for his son Paul, the en­gi­neer on the project, who drowned in Fe­bru­ary last year, just months af­ter the plant was com­mis­sioned, while tak­ing a wa­ter sam­ple.

Talla Burn Gen­er­a­tion is very much a fam­ily com­pany. The Wil­sons put up the idea and a lot of the ex­per­tise. The Hore fam­ily con­trib­uted the land, part of the Beaumont sta­tion. Both part­ners shared the fi­nanc­ing.

Wil­son learned his trade as an elec­tri­cian in 1971 work­ing for the

“I wake up ev­ery morn­ing and I ask my­self, if I didn’t do this, would I still have two sons?”

Otago Cen­tral Elec­tric Power Board, now Pi­o­neer En­ergy.

The board’s strat­egy was to de­velop small hy­dro schemes in co­op­er­a­tion with gold min­ing, dredg­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion com­pa­nies, and Wil­son worked on three of them.

Wife Sue han­dled the fi­nances, and there was also help from wa­ter engi­neer­ing ex­perts MWH Global, Opus Con­sul­tants and Scor­pion Engi­neer­ing.

The ex­is­tence of a 19th cen­tury gold-min­ing cut through a gully showed the lo­ca­tion could be turned into a hy­dropower canal. Wil­son’s 4.6km canal is more grad­ual than the gold min­ers’ race­way, mean­ing less ero­sion and pre­serv­ing height for fi­nal drop into the pen­stock, which is how the power gets made.

Get­ting the power out to the grid meant 21 km of 33 kV trans­mis­sion line, 2km of it un­der­ground to go through a res­i­den­tial area.

“We did a deal with Pulse En­ergy. We called ten­ders and then went with the smaller out­fit be­cause we thought it would be eas­ier to deal with,” he says.

Wil­son says not a month goes by that he doesn’t get a call from a farmer to look at the creek on the back of the farm.

“Most peo­ple are tyre kick­ers. I say ‘do you have plenty of money?’ They need a lot of money if they think they are go­ing to do it, be­cause it needs to be rea­son­ably big, and pa­per­work costs.” Wil­son’s dream is a hard one to have. “I wake up ev­ery morn­ing and I ask my­self, if I didn’t do this, would I still have two sons?”

But the legacy they cre­ated to­gether is still there.

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