Chch wind turbine business runs out of time and money

Shareholders, including former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, have voted to liquidate...
Shareholders, including former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, have voted to liquidate Windflow Technologies to clear its remaining debts. Photo: Mark Mitchell
Pioneering Christchurch-based engineering business Windflow Technology is to be liquidated after running out of time and money to develop new markets for its two-bladed wind turbines.

Shareholders last week voted to liquidate the Christchurch-based company and clear its remaining debts. Three of the firm's six staff will remain employed by liquidators PricewaterhouseCoopers to ensure an orderly wind-down of its affairs.

"It is expected that the company will be able to satisfy the liabilities of company creditors," liquidators Malcolm Hollis and Wendy Somerville said in their first report.

"The company was placed into liquidation after revenue opportunities, which it had been pursuing in New Zealand and other marketplaces, failed to materialise.

More than 100 of the firm's 500-kilowatt turbines have been installed since 2003, mostly in New Zealand, but also in the UK and in Texas.

The company was formed in 2000 and listed on NZX in 2003. Two years later it spun out and listed NZ Windfarms to develop the Te Rere Hau wind farm near Palmerston North.

But Windflow has struggled since Te Rere Hau was completed in 2011 to find sufficient new markets to maintain a flow of orders.

Flat local demand since 2008 saw major shareholder Mighty River Power – now Mercury NZ – opt not to proceed with a consented development at Long Gully south-west of Wellington. Other shareholders include former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

Windflow then turned to the UK market, only to run straight into a review of the government's subsidy scheme for renewable energy projects and growing public opposition to land-based wind projects.

Improving turbine technology, falling costs and the growing dominance of global players like Vestas, Goldwind, Siemens and GE also pushed the Windflow machine into a more limited and specialised niche for stand-alone machines or isolated communities.

The firm ultimately installed only eight turbines in the UK, most on Orkney and Scotland's Western Isles, where they were well-suited to the high wind speeds and harsh conditions.

Windflow's UK expansion was underwritten by a series of loans from New York-based New Zealander David Isles, who by 2017 ended up owning six turbines there and 73 per cent of the company when it was unable to repay the loans.

Isles sold the assets in June, with the new owners taking up only a three-month transitional services contract with Windflow.

In the firm's October annual report, chair Nigel Foster noted the "huge individual support" Isles had provided to the company and his understandable decision to not provide further capital.

The company was in the process of selling down its inventory of parts and equipment and would seek offers for its international property – including patents in eight countries – through a structured sales process, Foster said. At June 30, the firm had $950,000 of equity and trade liabilities of $423,000. Accumulated losses totalled $45.6 million.

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