WEL Networks

Innovation for wind farm consent and major line build

WEL Networks formed an innovative alliance with Meridian Energy to jointly develop the Te Uku wind farm and a 25-kilometre circuit to tie the project into the company's western network.

In the first partnership of its kind in New Zealand, WEL teamed up with Meridian to optimise the design of the overall development, speed of consenting and land access processes.

A value engineering exercise saw the project's original configuration, including a dedicated 110 kV line, dropped in favour of an embedded 33kV line. Over time the wind farm will form part of WEL's backbone network to a new zone substation being built at Raglan.

WEL started community consultation in 2006, helping its customers get comfortable with the wind project and explaining the benefits of the network upgrade. Four staff managed the company's extensive land owner and community consultation, which WEL believes "exceeds anything else attempted by the energy sector in recent times."

That work secured almost universal landowner agreement for both the line-build and the turbine sites.

Line route

The line route was chosen from more than 70 options. The final selection avoided construction of a new feeder between Hamilton and the company's western network, a saving of about $4 million.

WEL faced only minor opposition to the line-build with just nine negative submissions received, in a consent process kept separate from the wind farm to ensure focus on the wider benefits of the network upgrade.

The wind farm itself received only 46 submissions, with 21 in support. WEL says the level of support was unusually high for a wind farm in New Zealand, and avoided a prolonged appeal to the Environment Court that could have increased costs by more than $500,000.

WEL then sold the consented wind development to Meridian, booking a $3.2 million profit. The agreed alliance maintained a seamless transition as Meridian proceeded with construction, while WEL executed on the transmission and substation work.

The transmission circuit, completed in 31 weeks, was the largest line-build undertaken by a New Zealand line company in 2010.

Having the electricity generated at Te Uku transferred directly into the local grid is already benefitting WEL's customers, resulting in fewer outages and ensuring a better quality supply.

In 2011 the Innovation in Electricity Award category was sponsored by Gentrack.