Blair Walter is a mechanical engineer by trade and was elected Chair of the NZWEA Board at the 2013 AGM. He was an board member, representing Aurecon, between 2007 and 2012 and came back on board in late 2013.
Blair grew up in Christchurch and studied mechanical engineering and management at University of Canterbury. After graduating he moved to Wellington to join DesignPower and worked on the Wayang Windu geothermal project in Indonesia and various cogeneration projects before being seconded to ECNZ’s Strategic Development Group to work on various development initiatives and the ECNZ unit cost model for economic analysis. In 1997 Blair moved to Brisbane to beachhead DesignPower’s international growth with two other business development engineers and got involved with gas and biomass cogeneration projects for manufacturing plants – including sugar mills and various refineries. Around this time DesignPower was acquired by PB Power.
Blair then got itchy feet and headed for the UK with his wife and landed in Brighton at Mott MacDonald, a large UK engineering consultancy, where he joined the Power Development Team providing engineer services to lenders on combined cycle gas turbine projects in various interesting parts of the world like Brazil, Mexico and Turkey. His most significant project was the 500 MW TermoPernambuco CCGT plant in Recife in the north-east of Brazil, where he undertook pre-construction due diligence for the financing banks and then monitored construction, commissioning and early operations, with various side trips to assess the condition of local beaches. In 2003 Blair moved to Glasgow to establish Mott MacDonald’s wind team and went on to complete the first project financing of an offshore wind farm in Europe (Q7 in the Netherlands) and various other onshore and offshore projects around the UK and France.
In July 2005, Blair and his wife decided to return home to NZ for the impending birth of their first of three children. He established a wind analysis team in Wellington for Connell Wagner (now Aurecon) and directed growth of the business into Australia and South Africa, while providing energy yield predictions for various European projects for his previous employer Mott MacDonald. Blair also concluded a deal with the University of Canterbury to acquire a mesoscale modelling capability for assessment of wind resource anywhere in the world which became a core part of the Aurecon wind offering. He is currently Renewable Energy Leader for Aurecon, and is responsible for business development and technical leadership on wind, solar and hydro projects across the business, and providing due diligence services for existing and proposed projects for equity and debt investors.
How did you get into the wind industry?
“During my time at Mott MacDonald in the early 2000s, the opportunity arose to move to Glasgow to start a dedicated wind team for Mott MacDonald,” said Blair. “I had already had some involvement in a small wind farm at the Nerefco oil refinery in the Netherlands and could see that wind power was the way of the future so I jumped at the chance. It was relatively easy to translate my experience in the financing of conventional power plants across to wind energy, with the assistance of a small specialist sub-consultant in Scotland called SgurrEnergy which is now a major international renewables consultancy. Once I got a taste for renewable energy and its positive impact I never looked back.”
What’s your passion in your job?
“The great thing about my role is that I get to help all sorts of clients with all sorts of problems all around the world. Consulting is not for everyone but it suits me and I enjoy immensely building and maintaining strong relationships with clients and seeing their projects move forwards,” said Blair.
What do you bring to the board table?
“I bring to the board table 17 years’ experience in the international energy sector and the wide range of insights that experience has provided me on technical, contractual, environmental and financial aspects of energy projects and energy markets from an independent perspective.”
What’s the best thing about wind energy?
“It’s just such a cool sector with elegant technology to tap a plentiful natural resource. I like very much that it provides energy cost certainty in the face of fossil fuel price volatility, and in developing countries is an avenue for social development through job creation and reliable electricity supply which is vital for economic growth.”
What’s the worst thing about wind energy?
“That we don’t have enough of it yet.”
How can NZ get to 20% by 2030?
“I am a believer in market mechanisms selecting the most appropriate technology for new generation. But for that to work properly the playing field needs to be level so to me it is important that energy and environmental policy are effective and don’t hamper or unfairly promote any one technology. If the market is working properly, wind should form the bulk of new generation in the medium term as it has the best cost-risk profile of our current generation options.”