Government fast-tracks three wind farms for approval

"It is vital we support this type of renewable energy development."
"It is vital we support this type of renewable energy development." Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Government is fast-tracking three wind farm projects that could generate as much electricity collectively as the Clyde Dam.

The farms, located in Manawatu, near Auckland, and in Southland, will be fast-tracked for approval by consenting panels. They have not been approved yet.

This is fast-tracking is under a process initially introduced as a temporary measure through the COVID-19 recovery legislation and set to become permanent through the Government's new Natural and Built Environments Bill, which is expected to become law this month. This is part of the Government's Resource Management Act (RMA) replacement.

The fast-tracked process has reduced consenting time by an average of 18 months per project, the Government said.

If the three wind farms are approved, the Government said they will cut about 150 million kilograms of carbon emissions and create up to 840 construction jobs. They would generate about 419 megawatts of electricity at peak output.

"In comparison, New Zealand's third largest hydroelectric dam at Clyde produces about 432 Mw," Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods. 

"Generating the same amount of electricity using fossil fuels would create about 150 million kilograms of CO2 emissions.

"It is vital we support this type of renewable energy development to help meet our national and international emissions reduction goals, decarbonise our economy, reduce costs to household and businesses and improve our national energy resilience."

The largest of the three wind farms fast-tracked for approval is Contact Energy's proposal for Southland. That would see 55 wind turbines generating 300 Mw at peak output, create 240 construction jobs and 14 full-time workers to operate the completed farm.

Environment Minister David Parker said of 108 projects referred to the process, 15 were for green energy infrastructure. 

If approved for construction, the fast-tracked solar, geothermal, and wind renewable electricity projects are expected to create about 3500 construction jobs across the country and employ more than 350 full-time staff when completed.

The Government also announced on Monday that nine solar panel projects - about 1.9 million panels - have been referred for fast-track approval since 2020 under the COVID legislation. 

These projects could generate two and a half times the output of the Clyde Dam.

"These projects can proceed faster, provided they meet the normal environmental tests as determined by expert consenting panels," said Parker. 

"If approved, the nine solar projects will add 1,147 megawatts of power to the national grid at peak output – almost three times the output of the 432 Mw Clyde Dam."

The Government is aiming for half of the country's energy needs to be met by renewable energy by 2035 and for 100 percent of energy generation to be renewable by 2050.