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Antarctica wind farm operational

Jan. 20, 2010 at 3:49 PM
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- The world's southernmost wind farm, in Antarctica, is now operational.

The Ross Island wind farm will supply about 11 percent of the power to New Zealand's Scott Base and the American McMurdo Station. Previously, the two sites relied on diesel-powered generators for electricity.

The wind farm will cut diesel consumption by about 463,000 liters a year and reduce carbon dioxide output by 1,370 tons annually, according to New Zealand-based Meridian Energy, the project's developer.

The three turbines, each 37 meters tall and 33 meters wide, are generating 330 kilowatts of power.

The project represents "an opportunity for us to demonstrate our ability to build renewable generating facilities in a very remote and very beautiful location," Meridian Energy's Ken Smales told TV New Zealand news.

Scott Base, located on Ross Island 1,500 kilometers from the South Pole, has been New Zealand's permanent base in Antarctica since 1959, accommodating various research parties and groups visiting Antarctica. McMurdo Station, the American base, is a 3-kilometer walk over the hill.

McMurdo at one time had its own nuclear reactor, which eventually leaked and was decommissioned, TV New Zealand said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully in commissioning the wind farm on Saturday noted that New Zealand and the United States "share a commitment to increasing the global uptake of renewable energy resources."

McCully said when he formally met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the first time last year, she responded positively to the prospect of "significant cooperation" between the two countries in providing renewable energy for smaller Pacific Island states.

Since then, he said, "We have been working to give shape and substance to this proposal," and already there is "significant progress" in projects in both Tonga and the Tokelau islands.

"So it is fitting we have worked so hard together to get this wind farm up and running in Antarctica -- one of the world's most pristine and fragile environments," McCully said.

Before canceling due to the Haiti crisis, Clinton had been scheduled to inaugurate the wind farm. Instead, McCully led the ceremony via video link 4,000 kilometers away in Auckland.

In accordance with the commissioning plan, the Ross Island wind farm output has been limited to 560 kilowatts as part of the planned monitoring period until mid-January.

The farm is scheduled for "tuning" later in January to achieve optimum efficiency and reliability before the onset of winter.

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