Wind farms a priority for an energy-independent Zuidland

Prioritizing wind farms could make Southland self-sufficient, or a net exporter of renewable energy.

That is the conclusion of the draft regional energy strategy 2022-2050 that Beca Ltd prepared the report for the Southland Regional Development Agency Great South and Murihiku Regeneration.

Stephen Canny, Great South’s general manager of strategic projects, said while the The future of the Tiwai smelter was uncertain and energy-intensive industries such as green hydrogen production were developing, having a plan was vital.

“We are in the exciting position that several new major industries are eyeing Southland,” he said.

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“Having his strategy in place means investors will feel confident to invest in the region – we have a plan and a focus on renewables.”

The strategy considered three scenarios and the only scenario where current generation was sufficient to meet the needs of the region – effectively leaving a net surplus – was if the NZAS Tiwai smelter closed at the end of 2024 and the Southern Green Hydrogen (SGH) project fell through.

Otherwise, substantial investments in renewable energy would be essential.

Even if there were a controlled transition of load between the smelter closure and the commissioning of an SGH plant in 2030, current production would not be sufficient to meet the needs of the region.

This was due to the extra demand for electricity as a result of the national decarbonisation agenda.

If the smelter remained open until 2050 and the SGH started production in 2030, the shortfall at current production levels would be even greater.

To increase production, the strategy prioritized onshore wind farms – identifying more than 100 potential sites – followed by one, or a combination of:

  • hydroelectric power station in Otago

  • large solar development north of Te Anau, Mossburn and possibly Fairlight

The strategy also outlined possible new renewable energy sources, including solar energy, biogas and hydroelectric power plants.

The report found that the SGH project could also potentially support the production of green ammonia as a clean fuel substitute for large boilers and as an input for fertilizer production.

But regardless of the future of the SGH project, the wider issue of green hydrogen production, storage and use in the region needed to be explored to support the decarbonization of heavy transport.

If both the smelter and SGH were operating at the same time, offshore wind or new hydroelectric development should be considered.

Solar power should not be considered a major contributor to grid-scale generation for the South, but embedded solar power capacity (close to electricity loads) could provide power in areas that have been difficult to serve through the existing grids.

The areas around Makarewa, Awarua, Mataura and Edendale needed infrastructure upgrades to help the industry decarbonise.

Network investments are also needed to support the new generation, initially in areas such as Kaiwera Downs, Blackmount and Kaihiku Range.

The Fonterra plant in Edendale – early planning for renewable energy needs is crucial

John Hawkins/Stuff

The Fonterra plant in Edendale – early planning for renewable energy needs is crucial

Decarbonising the Edendale dairy would require a significant amount of renewable energy, both electricity and biomass – “and early planning to accommodate this load is critical,” the report warned.

Biogas capture technology, capturing emissions from dairy ponds, metropolitan and industrial waste treatment plants and historic landfills, had real potential but needed further exploration.

The rapidly increasing demand for renewable electricity put the national grid operator and local electricity networks under great pressure to be more flexible and to respond to new demand.

Both Milford Sound and Rakiura Stewart Island had to transition from their dependence on diesel by 2030. The island needed a combination of wind and solar generation, combined with energy storage, and Milford needed to upgrade the current hydropower system, including with a backup battery or hydrogen storage.

EV charging - an area where more research is needed.


EV charging – an area where more research is needed.

More detailed research into a region-wide network for fast chargers for electric vehicles was recommended.

Terry Nicolas, director of Murihiku’s regeneration portfolio, said cooperation as a region and the use of rapidly emerging technology is critical to making the most of resources.

The draft strategy was supervised by an advisory group of iwi, municipalities, major local industry and the electricity sector.

Hui at Gore on April 17, Invercargill on April 18 and Te Anau on April 20 will be held for public discussion.