11 Aug 2021

Amid power supply scrutiny, Genesis not planning to build NZ's biggest wind farm at Castle Hill

12:59 pm on 11 August 2021

Genesis Energy has sat on a granted resource consent for what would be the biggest wind farm in the country for the last eight years, and has no plans to build it.

wind turbines, wind mills, wind farm generic

A wind farm (file image). Photo: Unsplash / Luo Lei

The Castle Hill Wind Farm, consented on a site north of Masterton, could double Genesis Energy's current annual renewable electricity generation. The annual generation of the farm would be the equivalent of the power generated by at least 850,000 tonnes of coal.

The wind farm was given the green light in 2013 by the Environment Court. Its resource consent expires in 2023, with no construction planned. Genesis said it had other renewable energy projects that it was building and more in the pipeline.

Genesis Energy, in its original resource consent application, said "the wind resource across the site arguably represents one of the best wind energy resources in the world for wind energy generation".

"Electricity-related benefits include contributing towards meeting projected growth in electricity demand via renewable energy, the diversification of generation supply options, assisting with the reduction in carbon emissions associated with electricity generation, and providing a local supply of electricity to the Central Electricity Region."

The consent allowed for 286 turbines which could generate up to 860 megawatts of electricity - between 1500 and 3000 gigawatt hours a year. That was enough to power around 370,000 homes, and would easily be the largest wind farm in the country.

The granting of the consent was hailed by the then-National Government as a "major boost for renewables".

The consent application said the energy produced annually would have been the equivalent of the energy produced by 850,000 to 1.35 million tonnes of coal.

New Zealand is likely to import more coal in 2021 than it ever has, government officials believe.

But Castle Hill hasn't been built.

In a response to RNZ, a spokesperson for Genesis Energy recently said: "No construction is currently planned at Castle Hill."

"We are in late stage negotiations on a number of new renewable projects as part of our Future-gen programme which will enable the development of 2650GWh pa of new renewable generation by 2030. Earlier in the year, Waipipi wind farm came online providing approximately 450GWh pa of that."

In a submission to the government from late 2019 or early 2020, Genesis Energy hinted at why Castle Hill hasn't been built.

"Transmission costs can be a major barrier to commissioning new generation infrastructure, such as the Castle Hill wind farm for which we currently hold resource consent," the submission said.

In 2013, when the Castle Hill consent was granted, then-Genesis Chief Executive Albert Brantley said: "These consents are about being prepared for the future. They will provide Genesis Energy the ability to respond to the changing needs of New Zealanders, our customers, when we need to," Brantley said.

In 2015, Genesis Energy announced a plan to stop using its coal fired Rankine units at Huntly Power Station by December 2018. In 2016, the company pushed that back to the end of 2022. Then in 2018, Genesis pushed that back again to 2030, or 2025 under normal market conditions.