New Caledonia’s government announced last week a new set of targets aimed in order to reduce its dependency on imported fuel and increase the production of renewable energy sources

In what it terms a “development plan” in terms of energy, the French Pacific territory is proposing to “ensure (energy) supply security” and “reduce energetic dependency” on imported fossil fuel while following a “sustainable development” policy. The move also follows a global trend of ever-increasing oil prices.

As part of the plan, it is envisaged that appropriate investments should be made over the 2008-2015 period to achieve a production (in Megawatts [MW]) in the fields of hydroelectricity (+15 MW), solar/photovoltaic (+18 MW) and wind (+42 MW).

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However, there seems to be a clear preference for coal, for which the 2008-2015 objectives set an ambitious target of not less than 210 MW, New Caledonia’s latest local Cabinet meeting resolved, after receiving a brief from Energy Minister Gérald Cortot.

For the past two years, a renewable energy project funded by the European Union is dedicated to boosting the share of renewable energy sources in the French Pacific.

Called “TEP Vertes” (or Green petroleum equivalent ton), the initiative is also aiming at fostering more transfers of technology and is backed by a financial European assistance of some 5.2 million Euros (US$7.4 million) for the three French Pacific dependencies (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna).

The EU-funded initiative focuses on solar and wind energy.

Several wind farm projects have been implemented in the past few years in New Caledonia. One of these is located in the North of New Caledonia’s main island, with some 22 windmills already erected. The farm eventually aims to provide some 11 Megawatt to the three main towns of the area, Koné, Voh and Pouembout.

The wind-generating units span 32 metres and reach a height of 55 metres on a mast. They start producing power when winds reach 10 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 maximize 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 60 Megawatts (an estimated 15 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.

In New Caledonia’s Southern province, a similar project was launched in Prony in 2003.
It involved 31 wind power generators and was also implemented by French company Vergnet Pacific.

The cost of the Southern project, some 1.9 billion French Pacific Francs (CFP, around US$17 million), 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 percent (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 wind power generation’s potential was used to the full, New Caledonia could eventually generate some 30 percent of its total household electricity consumption.

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