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Fiji Time: 9:38 AM on Thursday 18 September

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$34m failure: FEA admits lack of study in wind farm project

By Maneesha Karan
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE Fiji Electricity Authority has admitted that its $34million Butoni Wind farm in Sigatoka was a failure.

And this was because of insufficient study of the area.

This revelation was made by FEA's general manager generation, Eparama Tawake, at the International Symposium on Renewable Energy at the Uni-versity of the South Pacific yesterday.

It was also revealed that one of the joint venture partners of the FEA, Pacific Hydro Limited, pulled out in 2003 after seeing the project as financially uneconomical based on its development cost and expected cost of energy generation.

FEA, however, still went ahead with the project with PB Power of Australia as consultants in 2004.

According to Mr Tawake, the performance of the wind farm should be 11.3 giga watt hour for a period of one year at an average wind speed of 5.47metres per second. However, annual average wind speed recorded at the wind farm during the first year was lower at 4.96m/s.

"The failure was due to not enough wind and not enough study was undertaken," Mr Tawake said.

"Capacity factor for the first year of operation at 5.2 per cent compared to 12 per cent as manufacturer performance contract," said Mr Tawake.

"Operations and management cost (stands) at $0.12/kWh compared to approximately $0.27/kWh for diesel power generation."

However, these costs are expected to increase after a few years of operation due to wear and tear. Initially, the site was chosen due to easy accessibility, proximity of the Butoni ridge to the FEA grid, and Sigatoka being an area of development.

Mr Tawake said the initial data collected put Butoni in the low wind speed category with average wind speeds recorded at four to six metres per second.

"(The) project deemed financially uneconomical by Pacific Hydro Ltd (PHL) based on the development cost and the expected energy generation."

FEA decided to pursue the project by taking on board PB Power (Australia) after PHL pulled out.

The project, which has 37 wind turbines, began in 2003 and was completed in 2006.

"However, we are saving about a million dollars worth of diesel fuel in this project despite it not performing to expectations," Mr Tawake said.

In June this year, this newspaper questioned FEA chief executive Hasmukh Patel on the performance of the wind farm where he replied it was under review. Defending the project, he said it only worked when there were good winds. The farm was opened in October 2007 and three months later, the wind turbines were brought down for maintenance because of Cyclone Gene. The maintenance took six months with Mr Patel saying that French consultants were brought in. in July 24, 2005 while announcing the wind farm, then FEA chair Jo Mar said the turbines could easily be lowered by villagers if there was a hurricane warning and that they would be trained on their maintenance as well.


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