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MRP reveals low-cost power from new geothermal plant

MightyRiverPower expects electricity from its latest geothermal development to be lower than costs normally assumed for such power stations and well below that of new wind farms.

Pattrick Smellie
Wed, 13 Jun 2012

BUSINESSDESK: State-owned MightyRiverPower expects electricity from its latest geothermal development to be lower than costs normally assumed for new geothermal power stations, and well below that of new wind farms.

In an update on its development projects, the company said it expected the $466 million Ngatamariki plant, with an installed generating capacity of 82 Megawatts, to produce electricity "with a real long-run marginal cost that is less than market estimates of $80 to $85 per Megawatt hour".

Most wind projects are assumed to require paybacks of around $100 per MWh.

The announcements come as MRP prepares for partial privatisation, which is expected to be completed by September 30.

That timetable looks increasingly firm as legislation allowing the sale is due back in Parliament this week after select committee deliberations, a month earlier than scheduled.

While Prime Minister John Key said this week the Mixed Ownership Model Bill would not be passed under urgency by Parliament, its likely passage in the next few weeks suggests the launch of a sale process in late July or early August.

Today's update on MRP's development projects appears intended to bolster public understanding of its various generation opportunities, particularly in local and international geothermal markets - a small but growing niche where MRP is one of the top 10 global players, along with Contact Energy.

The expectation of relatively low-cost electricity from Ngatamariki is unaffected by difficulties experienced with one of the injection wells being drilled for the new plant, which MRP said was "within the project contingency".

The company has so far spent $229 million on the plant, expects to capitalise interest of $56 million, and has a contingency reserve available, "as appropriate for greenfield developments".

"The next significant milestone for Ngatamariki is the completion of planned injection capacity," chief executive Doug Heffernan said. "The project remains within budget and on track for commissioning in mid-2013."

MRP's other major geothermal investment is in the United States, where it has put $US92 million into a 50MW, $US400 million plant in Arizona.

The John L Featherstone plant - previously called Hudson Ranch 1 - began operating earlier this year, and a second plant of the same size is now planned by its 20%-owned local partner, Energy Source.

MRP has also drilled two production-scale wells for the Tolhuaca geothermal project in southern Chile, ahead of temperature and flow testing, while surface testing on a German project is largely complete, with drilling permits are being sought, and planning under way on another four concessions.

A further New Zealand geothermal development in the Taheke field, near Rotorua, is in the early stages of development, with exploration due in the next 12 months.

MRP's other current development project, the proposed 326MW Puketoi wind farm, near Dannevirke, has finished public hearings ahead of decisions on resource consents.

Previous indications from MRP suggest Puketoi is not likely to be developed immediately, even if resource consents are granted.

Pattrick Smellie
Wed, 13 Jun 2012
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MRP reveals low-cost power from new geothermal plant