Wind Power in New Zealand

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The majority of energy sourced in New Zealand is used to generate electricity, with a mixture of fossil fuels or non- renewable energy and renewable energy sources. Fossil fuels are primarily made up of coal, gas and oil in New Zealand, but the burning of fossil fuels is the cause of climate change, one of the biggest issues facing the world in the 21st century. Burning of these fossil fuels emits harmful carbon dioxide, causing significant damage to the atmosphere, and is widely accepted as the biggest contributor to climate change. In New Zealand alone energy consumption has doubled every 22 years over the past 100 years, and when coupled with climate change, illustrates a need for increased renewable energy generation. These figures show that with increasing energy demand, supply needs to match this, and the New Zealand government aims to satisfy this solely with renewable sources. In 2001 the New Zealand Government set a national energy and conservation strategy goal of having 20% improvement in energy efficiency and to increase the supply of renewable energy 22% by 2012 (Teara, 2013).

Renewable energy has always been a strong point of New Zealand, with 74% of the country’s electricity being made from renewable sources (Bond et al, 2013). However as population increases, there is an increase in demand for electricity, with less supply coming from renewable sources, and more from non-renewable sources such as fossil fuels. As a result, the proportion of electricity from renewable resources decreased from 80.5% to 66.6% between 1987 and 2007 (Stats NZ, 2013).

Wind Power is a relatively small but growing source of energy in New Zealand. It equates to only 5% of the total power generation for the country. Despite this, it is a rapidly growing method of electricity generation, something which may be attributed to its lack of impacts on environment and atmosphere after installation, when compared to hydro dams, which contribute 56% of New Zealand’s power generated (MFE, 2007).


The first wind farms in New Zealand used small turbines which were the technology of the time. Meridian Energy’s first wind turbine on Brooklyn Hill (1993) utilised a 225kW turbine and the first stage of Hau Nui (1996) featured 550kW turbines. Trustpower’s Tararua Stage I featured 660kW turbines and was constructed in 1999. It is difficult given the time elapsed since the construction of these wind farms to analyse the underlying investment drivers which resulted in the decision to construct these plants and their relevance to assessing the costs of current plant is limited. Meridian’s Brooklyn turbine is considered to have been a source of valuable information in assessing wind in New Zealand and has performed exceptionally well by international output standards and is rated as ‘best in its class ’.

New Zealand Power Over Time

Wind Power was first introduced to New Zealand in 1997 where a wind farm was built in Southern Wairarapa. The Hau Nui Wind Farm is a wind farm which consists of 15 turbines.

Currently in New Zealand

New Zealand has 17 wind farms either operating or under construction. These wind farms currently have a combined installed capacity of 622 megawatts. They supply about 4% of New Zealand’s annual electricity generation (Wind Energy NZ, 2013), which is about the same amount of electricity as 180,000 New Zealand homes use in a year. Developers are exploring sites throughout New Zealand for new wind farms.

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Map of New Zealand current(green) and proposed (orange) windfarms.[1]

Wind power in New Zealand generates a small but rapidly growing proportion of the country's electricity. Having only become an established generation source in the late 1990s, as of early 2008, wind power in New Zealand has an installed capacity of 321 MW, nearly double the 2006 capacity. New Zealand has 17 wind farms either operating or under construction – which supplies about 4% of the nation’s annual electricity generation (the equivalent of the amount of electricity 180,000 NZ homes use yearly). New Zealand is located right in amongst the roaring forties, and both main islands lie across the prevailing westerly wind direction. Winds over the ocean are generally stronger and less turbulent than wind on the land, but there are several land sites that provide reliable wind energy throughout the country, most notably the Tararua Ranges in the North Island (Wind Energy NZ, 2013). These mountains are notorious among trampers for consistent and strong winds, so it is not surprising to find the two largest wind farms of the Southern Hemisphere along their ridge lines. A mountain range funnels the wind, creating flows strong enough to maintain an average wind speed of over 10 metres per second (Teara, 2013).

Environmental Indicators

Visual Pollution

The wind farms in the Tararua Ranges (noted as the most significant site in New Zealand) have generally been well received by local communities. Residents of the nearest city, Palmerston North, promote them as a tourist attraction which is what is wanted to be perceived in the country so sustainability can occur with positive feedback from the national community. However issues arise because the best sites are often on prominent ridgelines, locals are not always willing to have farms in their vicinity because of the visual pollution being witnessed. Residents of Makara, a coastal community near Wellington, have expressed concern about the visual impact of wind turbines on their rural landscape (Phipps et al, 2007).

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Wind turbines are easily seen on the hills from surrounding areas as can be seen here from the White Hill Wind Farm[2]

Noise Pollution

Wind energy is non-polluting in an environmental sense; however the turbines produce a lot of noise. Wind farms must comply with a national standard which states that noise at the boundary of any residential site must not exceed the greater of 40 decibels or background noise plus 5 decibels. Local authorities may impose even lower acceptable noise levels (Chiles, 2010). For this reason alone, wind farms cannot be built near residential areas. A turbine is said to produce similar noise levels to that of a car travelling around 110km/h. Noise is another issue raised by some communities, but with modern designs this is rarely a problem.

Accessibility to sites and Transportation

With New Zealand having a correlation with plate tectonics, causing a collision boundary there are numerous mountains built from this process (Wind Energy NZ, 2013). Therefore this indicates that there is a lot of high topography in New Zealand which will be where most of the higher wind speeds can reach. This makes accessibility to the wind farms rather difficult because of the locations they are built in because the sites with the highest yields are in remote areas. Many of these sites present developers with unique challenges for the transport, erection and construction of wind farms in remote locations which are poorly served with transport and transmission infrastructure. In addition many of these areas are sub-alpine in nature and face difficulties in winter for access. These factors tend to increase the capital cost of wind projects when compared to international benchmarks.


New Zealand being ideally situated within the roaring forties is a perfect location to locate wind farms for sustainable energy. Although the New Zealand Government does not subsidise the wind farming operation they are still economically viable from the rich source of wind New Zealand has. To run a sustainable wind turbine it is said that you need to have wind speeds in the vicinity of 7.5 m/s. A report for the Electricity Commission found that there are a number of sites with wind speeds greater than 8.5 m/s with a further large resource in the 7.5 m/s to 8.5 m/s band (Wind Energy, 2013). Therefore this shows that New Zealand has a number of suitable sites for wind speed generation. The yield from this high quality wind resource to a large extent offsets the high capital cost of wind plant and reduces the electricity price at which generation can be economically justified when compared to other countries with less productive wind resources Threat to wildlife The main disadvantage of wind energy is that wind can never be predicted. The generation of energy is reliant on natural wind paths and the strength of the wind is far from constant – ranging from zero to storm gusts. Although New Zealand is fortunate in its ideal conditions there will be times when the turbines do not produce electricity at all.

Environmental Quality

Climate Change

Climate change is a change in the state of earths weather - temperature, wind patterns and rainfall - observed over a long period of time. It follows a natural pattern that has been significantly altered by human activity (confirmed to with 95% accuracy), particularly due to societies dependency on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, as well as being a finite resource, are the leading cause in greenhouse gas emissions contributing 3/4 of all carbon, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. Both globally and nationally, if we want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and its negative effects on the environment we need to look at substitute energy sources. Wind energy is a clean, efficient alternative to fossil fuels. Wind farms do not emit greenhouse gasses as they generate electricity, whereas coal and gas stations do.
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The graph to the right is comparing the carbon emissions saved from using renewable energy relative to the 2010 fuel mix. The wind power is the best performer of the renewable energies surveyed showing its potential for reduction of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. With world population continuing to rise the demands on energy supplies will rise proportionally in response only causing more harm to the environment.

The life-cycle emissions from wind farms (from construction, to transport, operating, decommissioning) are about 1% in comparison to thermal generation, and needs only 6 months of energy generation to produce more than it will use in its lifetime (Mielke, 2010). This efficiency is unmatched in fossil fuel usage; over 50% of energy used to produce electricity from gas and coal is lost through the production process. Wind turbines produce no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury, radioactive waste, particulates, or any other type of air pollution, unlike fossil fuel sources and nuclear power plant fuel production.

Physical Presence

Wind farms can have a climate change effect to a very small scale. The development of wind farms cause a mini ecosystem to develop around the wind farm. Since wind turbines will turn with the slightest breeze at the height they are this will cause a vertical mixing of air layers. The effects of this localized ecosystem is that there will be warmer nights and cooler days in the immediate area around the wind farm. However there are very few people located close enough to wind farms in New Zealand for this to have a major effect on them.

Pressure, State and Response Variables

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Turbines at Makara Farm, west of Wellington[3]


Over time as the world's population has increased, so has its demand for energy. As a result of climate change, the need for renewable and environmentally friendly energies has become more and more crucial. While hydro is the most economical in terms of energy generation to cost, the damage to the environment and ecosystems is substantial in a small area, with some activists calling it "environmental vandalism" (Fernando & Werellagame, 2008, p5). The development of solar power is still in relative infancy, as well as being extremely costly, and much more suited to small scale, personal housing developments. The lack of a truly environmentally friendly, renewable energy source has led to the development of wind power, in a way that they can be installed on a large commercial scale. The New Zealand government's goal as stipulated in 2007 of 90% of all energy produced being from renewable methods (Spector, 2011; Barton, 2013) has led to the search for further renewable energy projects, to replace aging fossil fuel generation methods.

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Clyde Dam, which caused mass environmental and social loss with the flooding of its reservoir lake, Lake Dunstan, in the early 1990s[4]


The effects of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel generation methods is widely understood to be one of the main drivers of climate change, and subsequent sea level rise. While hydro projects have been an extremely effective method of energy generation, there are several issues associated with them. The destruction of local environment, and potentially conservation land, and micro scale ecosystems is seen as a significant issue associated with hydro power. As well as environmental issues, there is also the potential for the destruction of personal land, and business and income, as was experienced through the inundation of the Cromwell Gorge after the construction of the Clyde Dam in the early 1990s. This is often considered the biggest issue regarding the development of hydro dams (Binns et al, 2012; Illenger & Nel, 2001). While the economic benefits of hydro power, particularly after construction, are by far the best in terms of commercial, large scale renewable energy methods, the environmental and local scale economy cannot be ignored, and it is this which have increased calls for a new method of generation, without the same effects.


While still relatively expensive when compared to large dam schemes, wind power does not have the same effect on a local environment, although the number of turbines required to generate the same amount of power as a hydro dam is significant. Once built, the land around the turbines can be used as it was before for other resources such as farming. While wind power in New Zealand is still in its infancy, it is the preferred method of power generation with major electricity generators, such as Meridian and Contact, at the moment. Recently all plans to build further dams in the South Island, particularly along the Clutha River were abandoned by Contact Energy in the face of public opposition, demonstrated in the proposed dam at Luggate (Fernando & Werellagame, 2008). Wind power is the fastest growing generation method, a fact which may be attributed to the negative perceptions of hydro in the public's eyes, as a result of the substantial impact on the environment.



Wind Power is one of the fastest growing sources of energy, between 1998 and 2007 Wind Power had an increase of 2.5 petajoules which is an increase of over 4000% in this time. There is still more potential with Wind Power in New Zealand with there being the potential for 25% of all of New Zealand's power to be coming from wind power sources.

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Arrows pointing to 1998 and 2007 showing the visual increase in wind power in New Zealand[5]

Development in New Zealand

Energy use in New Zealand is an issue that requires extensive development so that supply can meet a growing demand. The Government has predicted that the cost of greenhouse gas emissions will increase, oil prices will rise globally and in general non-renewable resources will be an important role in the near future (New Zealand Energy Strategy, 2011). New Zealand has extensive renewable energy opportunities within the country to do with its climate such as high mountains with large rivers flowing from them which produces hydro power (New Zealand Energy Strategy, 2013). Solar power is also a form of energy that is not utilised due to the lack of knowledge around it but can be if further investigated. Geothermal development in the country also is at an engineering feet for New Zealand as this is traditionally one of the stronger renewable energy sources though out the country. Wind is the form of renewable energy that is a perfect condition for the climate of New Zealand from the extensive high topography shown and strong westerly push coming off the Tasman Sea.

There are currently a number of additional wind farm projects under investigation or seeking consents. A selected list of recently consented projects is summarised below(Wind Energy New NZ, 2013).

Waitahora wind farm site is located south east of Dannevirke in the Puketoi Ranges, Hawkes Bay. The project is owned by Contact Energy with a capacity of 177MW and an expected annual average output of 700GWh. In December 2010 the Environment court granted Contact Energy full consent for the project. Contact Energy is currently deciding when to progress with the project and have the choice of either 58x2.3MW turbines or 52x3MW turbines.

Haururu ma raki wind farm is located in Port Waikato. The wind farm is owned by Contact Energy with an expected capacity of 504MW to be generated from 168 turbines and a mean projected average annual average output of 1500GWh. Central Wind farm project is planned to be located between Taihape and Waiouru in Ruapehu. The project is owned by Meridian Energy with an expected capacity of 120 MW generated from 52 turbines. The mean annual average output of Central wind is 400GWh with estimated construction costs of $340 million.

Turitea wind farm site is located near Palmerston North and owned by Mighty River Power. The total capacity of Turitea is 183MW generated from 61 individual turbines. The Turitea wind farm was given draft approval in February 2011.

The Te Rere Hau project is being developed by NZ Windfarms on the Tararua Ranges in the Manawatu region. Construction is spread over 4 stages with the fourth stage consented in February 2010 and expected to be completed by mid 2011. Te Rere Hau has total capacity of 48.5MW with mean annual average output of 153GWh generated from 97 individual turbines.

Why we are turning to wind power?

Rapid depletion of fossil fuels is occurring in today’s world which is why alternative energy sorts are being investigated, in this case wind power as a sustainable energy source. Energy needs to cater to the ever growing worldwide population and with this population increase there is also an increasing demand for energy being witnessed(Zhou et al, 2010).
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A table showing New Zealand's renewable energy sources over time. As can be seen Wind has increased significantly


Management Methods

Wind farms are managed by the power company which owns them. This means that they are responsible for the maintenance of them and also have to deal with any surrounding problems if any arise.

Projects to Reduce Emissions (PRE)

PRE is a project that the New Zealand Government launched in 2003 to support initiatives that will help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Two different sections have been initiated with the first being, producing renewable energy by using natural resources such as water, wind, geothermal or steam and the second being turning waste into energy. Wind farms in New Zealand are a prime candidate for the Governments PRE scheme as they can be seen as economically viable. Wind farms are said to reduce carbon emissions by 40% which has qualified them for carbon credits under the Government scheme. However although wind farms have a mixed view from the public and are a sensitive topic somewhat, they provide a strong business case and allow for wider development for the future (Wind Energy NZ, 2013). Carbon reduction will be witnessed beyond business-as-usual reduction goals which are positive outcome.

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PRE projects by there origin in New Zealand

In the present situation there are 34 different projects that are present from the PRE scheme with a balance of private investors, publically listed companies, state owned enterprises and local authorities. The Government has future plans to look into tendering for PRE with a scheme known as carbon credits. This would allow companies to purchase the so called carbon credits and that would therefore allow them to admit carbon into the atmosphere for a price. PRE participants are also eligible to sell their emissions units either on a domestic or international market to either the Government or private buyers with a price dependant on rules at the time of selling (MfE, 2013). However at this stage the Government has said they will not do the carbon credit scheme.


Renewable energy has never been a big earner for energy companies as the investment needed for technology and consent often outweighs the output and positive benefits. However, as technology continues to develop and become cheaper, and with the backing of the government it is become more of a viable option - as well as the huge positive effect on the environment. There has been a shift in the publics opinion and awareness of the need for renewable energy and here in New Zealand, with ideal conditions, wind is a feasible option to become a major component in the energy department.


Wind power has rapidly risen in output since it was first introduced in New Zealand. The number of wind farms is currently at 17 with many more waiting on consent or under construction. Even though there has been a decrease in use of renewable energy in New Zealand since wind power was introduced it is important to remember that there has been a much bigger increase in power demand. If all the wind farms that are currently proposed gain consents and these run at full capacity then there is potential for New Zealand’s power grid to have 25% of all power supplied by wind farms.

There are issues surrounding wind farms still and these have to be mitigated for wind power to succeed to its full potential. Visual and noise pollution are the two main factors of pollution when looking at wind farms. Visual pollution is because due to the sheer size of the wind turbines they can be seen from many km away when located on a hill on the horizon. However Palmerston North has mitigated this problem by using the wind turbines as a tourist attraction and even named their local rugby team the Manawatu Turbos after the number of wind farms in the area. The second pollution factor of noise pollution is also a problem as the wind turbines make relatively loud noise when turning at maximum rotations. This factor is easily mitigated however as wind farms are normally located on hills where the wind is most prominent meaning there are normally very few residential areas close enough to be effected.

The main environmental pollution that comes from wind turbines is the carbon emissions from constructing them and then carrying the turbines up to the site. Roads have to be constructed on once otherwise untouched farmland. Wind farms still have overall low carbon emissions compared to other forms of producing energy due to this being a one off and carbon is not constantly emitted while the turbines are producing power.

Wind turbines have to be located in an economically sustainable location and due to New Zealand being located in the roaring forties with many hills this is not an issue for wind farms in New Zealand.

New Zealand has a wealth of opportunity for renewable power generation as can be seen with over 73% of power being generated by renewable resources. This means New Zealand is in a much better situation when compared to other countries that rely on fossil fuels as their main source of power. With the increasing rise of oil prices and the uncertainty over how long fossil fuel use can be sustained at the current rate New Zealand is looking for more and more renewable energy sources. Wind Power is a source that has previously been underutilised but with more and more wind farms being constructed all over New Zealand there is the potential for New Zealand to become the world leader in wind power generation.


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