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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, July 11) – New Caledonia-based company Vergnet Pacific has signed a FJ$30 million (US$12.5 million) with the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) to provide 37 wind-powered turbines to be set in the west of the main island of Viti Levu.

The site for what is to become Fiji's first large-scale wind farm is Butoni, near Sigatoka, where construction is expected to be completed in September 2006.

The FEA said the investment in renewable energy would allow a cost savings in fossil fuels of up to FJ$2.5 million per year and some 7.5 tons equivalent oil per year that would ease greenhouse gas emissions.

For the first time, the wind farm, once completed, will also be connected to FEA's main grid.

The wind farm is expected to generate up to ten megawatts, with each turbine producing about 275 kilowatts, for a total electricity production anticipated at some 11.5 gigawatts/hour per year, the Fiji government said in a release.

The turbines will be placed on 55-metre masts, but they will also be demountable in case of cyclone.

Fiji's main island of Viti Levu is already relying on its hydroelectric dam located in the centre of the island, at Monasavu.

For the past few months, New Caledonia's wind farming technology has been gaining momentum in the Pacific region : Vergnet director Marc Vergnet said last month he hoped the most recent technologies used by his company can be applied to other neighbouring Pacific countries, including New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands.

"We want to provide wind-generated power where power is the most expensive because of fuel costs, and the cost is rising. So we install these systems where wind is abundant, because of the trade winds."

The company is also planning to manufacturing rotors locally, out of fibreglass, in the small town of Népoui North of New Caledonia's main island.

Meanwhle, another wind farming project is currently underway in New Caledonia, with 22 windmills already erected and scheduled to be commissioned shortly.

The farm eventually aims to provide 11 Megawatts to the three main towns of the area, Koné, Voh and Pouembout.

The wind-generating units span 32 metres and rise 55 metres on a mast.

They start producing power when winds reach ten knots, but can also easily be dismantled in case of cyclone.

They are also equipped with a self-orienting device, which allow the two rotors to maximise wind production, according to the winds direction and strength.

The ultimate plan is to install a total of 42 units on the same site, called Kafeate.

But for the whole of New Caledonia, the plan is to build wind-generated electricity to sixty Megawatts (an estimated fifteen percent of all of New Caledonia's electricity consumption) by 2010.

Wind-generated production is directly connected to the existing power distribution network, which is operated by French company Enercal.

Two years ago, in New Caledonia's Southern province, a similar project was launched in Prony.

It involved 31 wind power generators and was also implemented by Vergnet Pacific.

The cost of the Southern project, some 1.9 billion French Pacific Francs (CFP, around 17 million US dollars), was met, like in the North, by New Caledonia\'s power company Enercal.

The company benefits from tax exemptions granted for investors in New Caledonia, including in infrastructure developments.

Vergnet Pacific has already installed wind-powered generators on the Isle of Pines (South of Nouméa, 3 units) and on Lifou Island (Loyalty Group, Northeast of the main island, 9 units) nearly covering energy needs of these areas.

Once completed, the renewable energy project in Prony was expected to reach a capacity of 220 kilowatt/hour per unit and an eventual total capacity of 6.8 megawatts.

In optimal wind conditions, the environment-friendly set-up is expected to supply up to 3.45 per cent (about 9.2 Gigawatts) of New Caledonia\'s household electricity needs.

But this still only half the capacity of one of the conventional diesel fuel generators that supply the capital Nouméa.

Vergnet believes if all of its potential was used for wind power generation, New Caledonia could eventually obtain thirty per cent of its total household electricity consumption from this source.

July 12, 2005

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