Contact Energy/ NZ geothermal industry celebrating 60 years of Wairakei

Contact Energy/ NZ geothermal industry celebrating 60 years of Wairakei Wairakei geothermal power plant, New Zealand (source: ThinkGeoEnergy, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 15 Nov 2018

New Zealand's geothermal energy sector celebrates the 60th anniversary of the start of geothermal power generation at the Wairakei geothermal power plant in Taupo, New Zealand.

Contact Energy is proud of the historic role the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station has played in pioneering geothermal generation, Contact’s CEO Dennis Barnes says.

In acknowledging the 60th anniversary of the station this week (Thursday 15 November 2018), Mr Barnes said Wairakei was a success story when it came to renewable energy. Geothermal generation is a core and growing part of Contact’s operations.

Wairakei, which was opened in 1958, is the world’s second oldest geothermal power station and the first to use wet steam technology. It has contributed renewable electricity to the national grid, and made a substantial contribution to the local economy and surrounding communities.

Mr Barnes said Wairakei was a symbol of New Zealand’s pioneering spirit and ingenuity.

“For six decades Wairakei has been acknowledged as a world-leading source of continual innovation. It has led the way and seen many overseas operators come to learn how it is done.”

Renewable electricity is the solution for New Zealand’s lower carbon ambitions and Contact is leading the charge.

“Contact is a world class operator of geothermal assets and continues to lower the cost of geothermal.”

Geothermal electricity generation is consistent with the government’s goal of a low carbon economy. Contact Energy’s fleet of power stations is now more than 80 per cent renewable, resulting in a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2012.

Mr Barnes also acknowledged the hard work and loyalty of all the staff at Wairakei Geothermal Power Station.

“We are immensely proud of the work they do and on behalf of all at Contact I would like to thank all those who worked there, from the first days to the present, for giving Wairakei its richly deserved reputation.”

Additional historical background

  • A power shortage after WWII prompted the Government to invest in hydro schemes on the Waikato River, but a two-year drought led to consideration of alternative generation options, including geothermal.
  • In 1949, an investigation and drilling programme was started at Wairakei.
  • In 1953, British firm Merz & McLellan was commissioned to write a feasibility study on a geothermal power station and in 1956, a consortium of companies from New Zealand, Britain, & Switzerland were contracted for site work and power station build.
  • Wairakei was built in stages, with the first generator (G2) commissioned 15 November 1958 and first station (A station) completed mid-1960.
  • Stage 2 (B station and extra steam collection piping) was completed in October 1963.
  • The station was owned and operated by the State Hydro Department, which later became the New Zealand Electricity Department. The station was eventually owned and operated by the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand (ECNZ).
  • When Contact Energy was split from ECNZ in 1996, ownership of Wairakei transferred to the new SOE, which was eventually privatised in 1998.

Source: Contact Energy via

Another overview on the Wairakei geothermal power plant can be found via the website of the New Zealand Geothermal Association (NZGA).