by Scott Willis
As I write, Meridian has announced that it is abandoning its $2 billion 'Project Hayes' proposal (a 176-turbine, 633-megawatt wind farm in Central). That is somewhat of a different scale to our 4-turbine, 2-megawatt Blueskin project, and the project trajectory could hardly be more dissimilar. On one side is one of New Zealand's largest electricity producer/retailers (or 'Gentailer'), on the other is a community initiative seeking greater energy security for the local community. Eric Pyle, head of the NZ Wind Energy Association, argues that this decision demonstrates that the wind industry is 'learning more about the best locations', and I think it also demonstrates that the Business As Usual model of large-scale development is no longer an uncomplicated model in New Zealand.
That impression was reinforced when I caught up with Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes on his way down to the 'Keep the Coal In the Hole Festival'. Gareth pointed out also that the Meridian project and the Blueskin project are very different – one is a top-down Think Big project, the way electricity has been 'done' in New Zealand since the 1930's, while our Blueskin project is bottom-up, with everyone having a stake and contributing. If we can achieve projects like the Blueskin wind cluster, he argued, then we can 'create a robust grid, with less loss and more popular support'. Gareth was very clear that we need renewable energy if we are to avert climate crisis and wants to see in the future a 'more friendly legislative regime for community projects, and a grid which is designed to encompass decentralised community projects so we can have a network which is resilient in the face of future challenges'.
Meanwhile, our project is moving forward. I had a range of very productive meetings in Wellington just prior to the Christmas holidays and found a wide range of support even from within government agencies (though that's not followed up with much supportive policy at present).
We had also hoped to have our 'Community Engagement' report complete by the end of last year, however due mainly to staffing changes at EECA there has been a delay, and we're only now able to begin finalising the report. Following a meeting at the Electricity Authority I now have some work to do assessing whether we may have a viable project to offer a retail option for Blueskin (coupled with generation), and thus potentially secure more complete control, which of course will be part of further community discussions as we seek further opinion on the project.
Finally, while sad to see the Clarke family and the Robinsons leave us for Nelson I'm delighted to be able to welcome Chris Freear and Linda Van Barneveld to Blueskin. Chris is project manager for Our Wind Limited (remember the agreement signed between OWL and BRCT almost a year ago?) and they have just purchased a property in Waitati.
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