Meridian Energy Wind Farm
In June 2012 Meridian Energy announced it was about to start construction of a 26 turbine wind farm North West of Wellington city.
In June 2012 Meridian Energy announced it was about to start construction of a 26 turbine wind farm North West of Wellington city. The project was the idea of a group of Wellington farmers who formed a company 20 years ago with the goal of farming wind on their own land.
Ohariu Valley is one of the last few remnants of farmland left close to Wellington. It sits in the fringes of expanding suburbia which includes Johnsonville and Tawa.
Farmers in this part of the country have a range of challenges. The climate can be fierce, they are a long way from rural services, fert spreaders and rural support. The other problem is theres little land left to expand onto that hasnt already been sucked up by lifestyle blockers or subdivision. The proximity to Wellington has also meant theres been a ready market for further subdivision.
The farming community is quite close. Those that continue to farm their land here work in together and support one another during busy times like shearing and lambing.
Four Ohariu Valley farmers first discussed the idea of a wind farm in the 1990s. The group wanted to ensure traditional farming would remain viable in the area, and saw a wind farm as being complementary to maintaining their existing farms and ensuring they stayed viable for another generation.
Windcorp was set up by Gavin Bruce, Greg Best, Roy Kellahan and Warren Bryant in 2001 to investigate the idea of setting up a windfarm and seek interest from energy companies. Meridian won a tender to develop a wind farm on the site and Project Mill Creek was born.
In 2009 consents were granted by the Wellington and Porirua City Councils, and Wellington Regional Council in 2010. The consents were appealed to the Environment Court in 2011 and gained approval in August 2011. Not all local residents were in favour. By the time this proposal was in front of the public, Meridian Energy has already installed a windfarm at West Wind, Makarara, just down the road from these farms.
Some of those that were on lifestyle blocks in the valley were worried what a windfarm would do to their landscape. Others complained that there was noise associated with the turbines and that would be a problem with this farm as well.
Ohariu Valley has a number of small block holders people who love the Valley and dont want any change. Ohariu Valley Preservation Society and other individuals protested quite strongly. Some of the farmers involved say the opposition was a lot stronger than they were expecting and some of it quite unpleasant.
Gavin Bruces property straddles Takarau Valley Rd. The bulk of it is steep country and prone to drying out. He runs about 2100 ewes and doesnt hang on to any replacements. He aims to have around his lambs off the property by Xmas because of the challenges of finishing them over the summer. He also runs cattle.
The one constant on the farm is wind. Most of the farms have views out to Cook Strait but Gavin says there are days when it can be a challenge standing up in the wind out there.
Gavins grandfather came to the valley in the early 1900s. It was a dairy farm originally. His father carried on with dairy cows and pigs until the late 1970s. Gavin bought the farm in 1992. In 1995 after a couple of particularly tough years, he and some of the other farmers starting talking about a wind farm as a way of keeping farming viable in the valley.
The other option was subdivision which none of them wanted. Gavin says there had been approaches from property developers in the past and the money offered was very attractive, but he says it would have been the end of farming in the valley.
Greg Bests family are 5th generation farmers in the valley. They have one main block next door to Gavin Bruce and another smaller block further up the valley.
Greg runs cattle and sheep but hes also diversified into hospitality with Ohariu Farm, a wedding and conference venue. The woolshed has been completely gutted and refitted as a restaurant and venue that can take up to 200 guests for a seated dinner. Theyve also started hosting running brunches over the weekend. The advantage is that theyre only 20 minutes from central Wellington but in a landscape completely rural. This side of the business is run by Gregs wife Jude.
Greg says he loves farming in the valley and loves the proximity to town. The sense of history is very strong and he wants to stay in the area and hand the property on to his kids.
Greg says the wind farm ensures that the whole farm business has a solid future.
The turbine for this wind farm will be on the Best and Bruce properties. There are another two farmers involved in the project who have supplied access through their properties to the turbine sites. One is a traditional sheep and beef property, the other also has horse stables.
The project will end up costing an estimated $169 million to construct.
Meridian Energy says the Mill Creek site benefits from a world class wind resource, harnessing the roaring 40s wind from the Cook Strait.
Alan Mckinney from Meridian Energy says the funnelling effect of Cook Strait means the site has strong and consistent wind speeds, making it an ideal place for a wind farm.
The project will sit next to an existing wind farm at West Wind near Makara. Between West Wind and Mill Creek, Meridian says it will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 100,000 average New Zealand homes.
Mill Creek will produce on average 235 GWh of power per annum, thats enough electricity to power the equivalent of 30,000 average New Zealand homes each year. Preparatory civil works will start in the next two months with full power expected mid-2014.
The main logistical challenge for the wind farm construction team has been getting access to the proposed turbine sites. The road into Ohariu Valley is very narrow and it soon became clear to those who first looked at the project that there was no way the turbines could be hauled into place using that road without a major upgrade. On top of that it was clear that there would be some resistance from residents.
A large part of the project thus far has been building a brand new road through a landfill at the Porirua end of the valley to connect to what has traditionally been a dead end. Getting approval to build that road and then widen the existing road to take heavy vehicle traffic has been a challenge for the energy company.
Once the turbines are in place that new road will be closed off and the valley will return to its seclusion.