POWERING NEW ZE ALAND
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%?
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.