- Te Ahi O Maui, in Kawerau, has entered the commissioning phase.
- Once fully operational, Te Ahi O Maui will generate around 25MW of baseload renewable energy.
- It will deliver long term benefits for local communities.
After securing resource consent in July 2014, then getting the green light in September 2015 to begin construction, New Zealand’s latest geothermal power plant has now entered the commissioning phase. Over 265,000 man hours have been completed on site, without a single lost time injury.
“This is a momentous stage in the project,” says Matt Todd, chief executive of Eastland Group, the Gisborne-based infrastructure company that owns Te Ahi O Maui operator Eastland Generation.
“All pre-operational resource consent and safety requirements have been met. Operational checks are now being undertaken to allow commissioning to begin.”
Initial heating up of the plant began this week, with the first synchronisation of the plant to the national grid expected to occur in the coming days. A reliability run will follow an extensive testing regime, which is being conducted with Ormat Technologies Inc.
Israeli company Ormat, a world leader in the development of binary cycle geothermal power plants, supplied and constructed the Te Ahi O Maui power plant.
Mr Todd says that Eastland Group’s original business case had Te Ahi O Maui being commissioned from August 2018. “As with any multi-year project of this scale and complexity, many activities run in parallel. The construction component was delivered ahead of plan, and we’re beginning commissioning only a few weeks behind our initial ambitious schedule.”
Power for over 25,000 homes
The Te Ahi O Maui facility consists of three geothermal production wells, two geothermal injection wells, an Ormat binary power station similar to many others already in operation in New Zealand and around the world, and a transmission connection to the national grid.
Consents allow for the extraction of 15,000 tonnes of geothermal fluid daily from the Kawerau geothermal reservoir, for the next 35 years. Nearly 100% of this fluid will be injected back into the reservoir, ensuring the operation is sustainable.
Initially considered a 22MW plant, the Te Ahi O Maui plant is expected to achieve around 25MW – enough to power over 25,000 average homes. The increase in output has improved the plant construction cost, including drilling, to $5.45m/MW.
A collaborative approach
Te Ahi O Maui is a partnership between Eastland Generation and the Kawerau A8D Ahu Whenua Trust.
“Both partners have brought strong commitments to the cultural wellbeing and safety of the whenua and the people working on the project,” says Ben Gibson, Eastland Generation general manager and Te Ahi O Maui project director. “Our kaupapa of development has ensured the project was executed in an environmentally friendly, sustainable and culturally appropriate way.”
Cultural advisor for the project and kaumatua of the Trust, Tomai Fox, says: “Seeing this project completed has long been a vision for me and my whanau. We have a strong connection with the whenua and we are proud that it has been completed without any injury to people or the environment.”
A first under new health and safety legislation
“One of our aims was to build a geothermal plant from the ground up, managing multiple contractors and high risk hazards, respecting and working closely with local iwi – with zero harm to workers and visitors,” explains Mr Todd. “We’re proud to have achieved this, and it’s a testament to all the teams involved.”
Te Ahi O Maui is the first geothermal power station to be built in New Zealand under new health and safety legislation, and the first of its type to submit a Safety Case. On 16 April 2018, they received notification from WorkSafe that their Safety Case had been accepted.
Long term benefits for local communities
“We look forward to seeing Te Ahi O Maui provide baseload renewable energy to New Zealand’s emerging alternative energy markets, and playing a greater role in meeting the country’s current and future energy needs,” says Mr Todd.
“We’re exploring ways that we can use the output commercially, to support businesses and the communities we operate in.
“Most importantly, Te Ahi O Maui will deliver strong financial returns to our sole shareholder, Eastland Community Trust, and their beneficiaries – the people of Tairāwhiti Gisborne – for at least the next three and a half decades.
“Our project partners Kawerau A8D Ahu Whenua Trust will also benefit from these long term returns.”
Eastland Community Trust chief executive Gavin Murphy describes Te Ahi O Maui’s development as an important piece of the economic puzzle for both Tairāwhiti Gisborne and Kawerau.
“It has been exciting to see the plans for Te Ahi O Maui come to life. The project is an example of best practice development with mana whenua, health and safety, and renewable energy.
“Te Ahi O Maui is also notable as the largest single investment made within ECT’s portfolio. Its commercial success will further underpin Eastland Group’s strong dividends to the Eastland Community Trust. The local community will benefit from their commercial success via the distributions and direct investment programme of the Trust and the Trust’s economic development arm, Activate Tairāwhiti.
“We congratulate everyone involved in the delivery of this extremely significant project.”
Countdown to Te Ahi O Maui ‘go live’
July 2014: Resource consents are awarded to Te Ahi O Maui.
September 2015: Decision to proceed is signed off by Eastland Community Trust.
January 2016: Construction of project roads commences with Eastern Bay of Plenty contractor Grant Farms Ltd. Well pad construction is undertaken by Seay Earthmovers from Taupo.
May 2016: After assembly, inspections and karakia and blessings from the local kaumatua, drilling begins with MB Century and Halliburton. Ormat is engaged for the construction of the plant.
June 2016: Earthworks for the power plant and separator get underway with Seay Earthmovers.
Early 2017 onwards: Ormat mobilises to site to begin the foundation works for the power plant. Construction continues throughout 2017. MB Century is awarded the contract for the design and construction of the steamfield. Horizon Contracting, part of the electricity distribution company in the Bay of Plenty, constructs the transmission line.
September 2018: Plant construction is complete, and commissioning with Ormat begins. There will be a string of tests to ensure that the plant and all systems operate correctly, followed by a reliability run.
October 2018: Ormat is due to formally hand over Te Ahi O Maui to begin full commercial operations.
An official opening ceremony will be held early next year.
Eastland Group is a regional energy specialist. It owns Eastland Generation, which operates both Te Ahi O Maui and Geothermal Developments Ltd (GDL) in Kawerau, along with the Waihi Dam near Wairoa.
Eastland Group also owns Eastland Network, the electricity lines company for Gisborne, Wairoa and the East Coast.
Last year, Eastland Group established a new sector, ‘energy solutions’, focusing on emerging technology and energy retail. They are a 20% shareholder in innovative electricity retailer Flick Electric Co.; launched New Zealand’s first community-focused energy hub, Electric Village, in Gisborne’s main street; and established a region-wide network of electric vehicle charging stations.
Outside the energy sector, Eastland Group operates Eastland Port and Gisborne Airport.
Their sole shareholder is Eastland Community Trust. In the past 15 years, Eastland Group’s long term strategy of asset expansion and diversification has seen them deliver more than $100 million in returns to ECT, for the ultimate benefit of the local community.