Whirinaki power plant adds to electricity supply security

  • Pete Hodgson

Energy Minister Pete Hodgson today opens the government’s new 155 megawatt reserve power station at Whirinaki, near Napier.

The new oil-fired plant will help provide increased certainty of electricity supply for New Zealand, Mr Hodgson says.

"This station will run only when the limits of the electricity system are tested by problems like low inflows to the hydro lakes, or perhaps a major generation or transmission breakdown. It is effectively a form of insurance against the risk of power shortages."

Mr Hodgson said that New Zealand needed an electricity system that coped better with extremes, and part of the solution was to have more reserve generation to run in very dry years.

"We’ve been reminded, all too painfully, of how vulnerable New Zealand is to the effect that a very dry period can have on our electricity system. Transmission or plant failures could be equally serious. We need adequate supplies of energy in reserve and the government has charged the Electricity Commission with ensuring that for the future."

Construction of the $150 million plant began in October last year, and the three turbines have all been successfully tested in the last three months. Four staff will run the plant, which can also be run remotely from the Otahuhu power station in Auckland. Contact Energy, which owns the Whirinaki site, has built and will run the plant on behalf of the government.

The cost of building and operating Whirinaki will be recovered through a levy on the industry. The construction cost equates to less than $5 a year for the average household.

“Whirinaki can be up and running in seven minutes if needed, and at full capacity could supply up to 3 percent of New Zealand’s average power needs," Mr Hodgson says.