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Blowing in the Wind

It's appropriate that "windy" Wellington is the site of the country's first large-scale wind turbine, a 225-kilowatt generator high up on Brooklyn Heights. The Danish machine was recently opened to the public as part of a research programme into producing energy from the wind. The three-bladed turbine sits atop a 30-metre tower, looking very different from a traditional squat windmill and providing much more power.

According to Paul van Lieshout, a windpower expert with DesignPower, the wind turbine generator could supply sufficient energy to power 80-100 households. DesignPower and ECNZ are studying the possibilities for wind power in New Zealand, and are enthusiastic about its potential.

"New Zealand's got tremendous potential, but it's not just a matter of transplanting overseas technology here," warns Shaun Cornelius, research manager of ECNZ's Technical and Development Group. Wind speeds in New Zealand tend to be higher than those encountered in Europe. The other major site for wind farms -- California -- relies on thermal winds blowing off desert areas. The new turbine will give engineers a chance to assess the machine's mechanical characteristics and lifetime under New Zealand conditions.

Van Lieshout is convinced that 40% of New Zealand's energy demands could be met by wind by 2010. The deregulation of the energy supply industry has seen around 10 local authorities learning more about wind power, and van Lieshout has been talking with interested parties as far afield as Malaysia and Indonesia.

"We're working towards developing a wind farm of 40 machines," he enthuses. The experimental site will give the public a chance to assess development, and a set of panels provides visitors with information on wind power. Most suggested sites tend to be away from urban areas. The financial and environmental benefits of developing wind farms on remote farmland, enabling sheep, cattle and energy to be raised simultaneously, are well recognised [Harnessing the Wind, October 1991].

"[Wind turbines] don't take up any land as such," notes Cornelius. The reduced environmental impact makes wind energy a more attractive option than thermal or hydro power under the tougher new resource management legislation. The main thing is to assess its economics, particularly with regard to the reliability of the machines under New Zealand's often turbulent conditions.

"The manufacturers are predicting lifespans of 20 years, but nobody's run one for that long yet," says Cornelius. The Brooklyn site should see its wind turbine in action over the next three to five years.