April 2014 News
April was another full month for wind and renewable energy. During the NZ Wind Energy Association conference in Wellington in April, I was able to visit the Mill Creek wind development near Wellington (see inset photo). This was on the opening day of the conference and it was a fantastic opportunity to see a wind farm in construction, and hear about all the detail of the construction phase. Despite Mill Creek being described as a modest development, it has involved significant new roading and transmission lines to the site. That visit really helped me appreciate just how minor our proposed community wind development is in comparison (i.e. a 2MW development compared to a 60MW development).
BRCT, as sole shareholder of the Trust’s company Blueskin Energy Ltd (BEL), appointed Chris Freear as an Executive Director to BEL in April and Chris joined me in Wellington to represent BEL. Chris joins Charles Abraham (Director) and Tony Wilson (Director) and brings to the company his extensive expertise in the wind industry. As an ex-CEO of NZ Windfarms, Chris knows a great deal about getting a wind development up and running and is fully conversant with the financial requirements of developing this scale of project. At the conference itself, I was heartened by the broad consensus there was about the urgency to tackle climate change and the actions being taken to do just that. The wind industry, unlike the petroleum industry, receives no subsidies and, in contrast to the petroleum industry, contributes to positive outcomes for the climate through mitigating CO2 emissions. Thanks to the NZ Wind Energy Association, we had a small stall, as well as the opportunity to give a presentation. There was a great deal of interest from NZ and Australian members in the community scale approach, in an industry facing many questions. Questions really fall into three areas: the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter (will it close and where will that electricity be used?); Transmission pricing (who pays for the cost of transmission and will new developments ensure greater security of supply?) and; the Greens-Labour NZ Power proposal (what impact will it have on the gentailers, i.e. those who both generate and sell electricity as retailers?). Demand for electricity is continuing to slowly fall and wholesale electricity prices have softened while residential prices have continued to rise. Meanwhile, thermal generation (that is electricity generation from fossil fuels) is being reduced, though the sector still attracts significant support. Some see this as ironic at a time when turbine technology has improved, turbine prices are low, the NZ$ is strong and interest rates are still remarkably low. Most people agree that some of the best opportunities for new electricity generation lie in small wind projects embedded in local networks, which is the Blueskin model. The main issue to get right is how to rapidly make that transition to renewables within our current economic system that gives priority to fossil fuels.
Transpower, the ‘system operator’ (the state-owned enterprise which manages the operation of our national grid and the physical operation of the electricity market), is very aware of the changing electricity sector. Transpower representatives, I was surprised to hear, spoke of the need to become more responsive and adaptable in a dynamic environment, with small-scale wind, solar PV and new demand side electricity management stimulating a change in their thinking. This is all good news for our community ambitions. On display, at the conference, was a second hand Nissan Leaf car. These all-electric vehicles are now being imported at very good prices and of course there are retrofitted electric vehicles already being done in Blueskin! So electrification of our transport system is another ‘wild card’ that could significantly influence developments.
All in all, the conference gave us confidence that we are on the right track and are taking the right approach. Careful appraisal, considered timing, and appropriate expertise seem to provide the best foundations for the successful development of a community wind cluster. Finally, we were very pleased to receive a promise of additional assistance from Meridian to evaluation the Blueskin wind resource, should we require it. We continue to work in an integrated way on energy issues, while focussing on developing the Blueskin wind cluster.
To stay in touch with developments, subscribe to our BRCT update (you will be taken to the subscribe page of our 'Blueskin Energy Project', as we are in the process of moving this across to this site) or pop into the office at 1121 Mt Cargill Rd, Waitati. Telephone enquiries can be made on 4822048. We love to have visitors!