News and views
open letter opposing the Clutha Dam Proposals
following letter was sent to
Mr. Neil Gillespie
Hydro Projects Manager
Contact Energy Ltd
Signed by a large number of organisations and
individuals it outlines the opposition to the building of more dams
on the Clutha and the reason why the Contact Energy proposals as
outlined should not proceed. It also gives good scientific backgropund
for alternative sources of energy. The letter has been edited and
for a full version please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
|| We write to inform you that we have
examined Contact Energy’s four Clutha dam options, and after
thorough consideration have chosen Option 5 – no further dams.
This letter sets out the reasons for our decision.
There is no doubt that the energy question concerns all New Zealanders,
and that to gain a full understanding of the issues it is necessary
to take into account the underlying reasons for Contact’s investigation
of large hydro options on the Clutha. We offer some solutions.
|The Unsustainable Pursuit of Growth
We are witnessing an unprecedented
global crisis, directly threatening our way of life. We have built
our civilisation on the myth that we are an exceptional species,
endowed with the ability to control
‘nature’. Somehow, we believe that we can continue to
grow our population, using dwindling ‘resources’ indefinitely,
if only we can manage our problems with better technology.
We are not winning. Every ‘resource’
indicator is falling. The most important change we can make is to
acknowledge our utter dependence on that which gives us life –
our environment. As
Sustainable Aoteoroa New Zealand (SANZ), a think-tank led by Professor
Wayne Cartwright, observed in its May 2009 report, Strong Sustainability
for New Zealand, ‘New Zealand is currently very far from being
sustainable, and does not have policies and practices that can achieve
sustainability …. We need a new approach to economics that
maximises the community wellbeing within the requirement for ecological
integrity.’1 Placing meaningful economic values on living
rivers, living forests, and the Earth’s ecosystem withal,
by implementing proper environmental accounting processes, is essential.
|Adapting to Resource Depletion
Oil is presently the fundamental
building block of the world’s economy, but it is running out.
Evidence suggests that oil production may in fact have peaked in
late 2005.2 Nevertheless, demand
continued to soar, with the price of oil rising almost 400% in three
years. An increase in economic activity requires an increase in
net energy (i.e. the net number of British Thermal Units (BTU) available
to fuel that activity. As no alternative source, or combination
sources, comes remotely close to the energy density of oil (473,750
BTUs per litre), a decline or even plateau in the supply of oil
carries ‘game-ending’ consequences for the present financial
Adapting to this post ‘Peak Oil’
world will require more than repeating the energy solutions of the
past. As we move away from fossil fuel dependence, electricity generation
using oil, gas and coal
will decline, while the demand for reliable renewable electricity
to replace this baseload and power electric transport will increase
dramatically. This is not a time for ‘business as usual’.
We need to
develop truly renewable energies, not dependent on the exploitation
of a limited number of freeflowing rivers, or on metals and minerals
in terminal decline, and not subject to the vagaries of the
weather. We urgently need to prepare a reliable, expandable and
truly renewable supply of electricity.
|Energy Conservation First
The easiest, most cost-effective
alternative to new generation is to reduce waste and improve efficiency.
The latest figures from EECA show that New Zealand's energy efficiency
has improved at only 0.7% per annum over the medium term from 1995–2007.
Even so, about 34% of the increased demand for energy services was
met through energy efficiency improvements. It is patently obvious
that energy conservation has the potential to provide breathing
space for the development of more sustainable options. The poor
efficiencies already gained do not take into account reported power
losses of up to 20% in transmission via the HVDC.
According to Ministry of Energy figures, we are
using approximately 2% more energy each year. Nevertheless, basic
conservation measures such as more household insulation, demand-side
management, and appliance ‘energy footprint’ ratings,
remain slow in coming. The move to highenergy agriculture is also
seriously impacting demand, with associated environmental costs
have not yet been included in the value equation.
New Zealanders face a dilemma. Either we continue
with unchecked growth and consumption, or embark on meaningful changes
to reduce wholesale inefficiency across all sectors. The global
recession has sharpened our sense of urgency, but has not focussed
us on how to avoid more of the same, and worse. We need to move
toward a ‘steady state economy’.
At present, there is a fundamental problem with
the New Zealand energy system. While the consumer has economic incentives
to conserve energy, the producer is bound to a business model
incentivised to build, produce and sell energy for profit. The irony
is that the consumer is likely to fund this additional generation
through higher power prices, which will in turn drive hyper-inflation
unless the unit price of electricity can be subsidised by major
consumers. It is a case of the tail wagging the dog: the producer
can always point to projected consumption to justify further generation,
but this presupposes that the most logical first measure, efficient
energy use, is not an option.
The energy sector must be restructured to incentivise
energy conservation at every stage of electricity management, production
and distribution. Better real-time price information, and a resolution
of long-stalled efforts to create effective transmission hedging
mechanisms, would improve wholesale market arrangements. Past restructuring
has failed to deliver efficiencies, and the domestic consumer is
being stretched to breaking point.
|Alternative ‘Renewable’ Energy
||New Zealand has plentiful wind energy resources.
New wind-to-battery technology, using ‘flow’ batteries
and other non-perishing storage, is set to increase the efficiency
of wind generation, with fewer turbines producing more energy. However,
to achieve even a fraction of wind power’s much vaunted potential,
enormous amounts of land would be needed, resulting in serious environmental
impacts. There is certainly a place for small-scale municipal wind
farms, but for wind power to contribute significantly to baseload,
its proponents must focus offshore.
Off the coast of Haugesund in Norway, Siemens is now testing prototypes
of 2.3MW wind turbines affixed to floating structures which may eventually
be moored in up to 700 metres of water. As Albert Goller, Managing
Director of Siemens, has declared of The Hywind turbine, ‘Because
the turbine is constructed on a floating structure, the high costs
associated with foundation works for fixed turbines at depths of more
than 30 to 50 metres are eliminated, making this innovation the clear
choice for countries that have been looking to establish large scale
offshore wind farms.’
While sales of solar photovoltaic
(PVs) cells are growing fast they still account for only 0.04 percent
of the world’s electricity generation. The European Photovoltaic
Industry Association predicts that solar energy could provide a
quarter of global electricity demand by 2040. The obvious constraint
to solar is that it can generate efficiently only when the sun is
The rapid progress in fuel cell technology should
help overcome this problem, but metal component shortages may
place severe constraints on solar unless this, too, can be overcome.
|Tidal Power and Cook Strait
Cook Strait is one of the
outstanding sources of tidal energy in the
world. The conjunction of the Tasman Sea with the Pacific within
a confined waterway forms an alternating difference in tidal levels,
creating massive tidal currents. Since tidal movements are
driven by the gravitational pull of the moon, they are reliable
and predictable, and since water is about 1000 times denser than
air, tidal turbines are extremely efficient.
Tidal turbine technology is now progressing quickly,
with a variety of site-specific models. Most New Zealanders don’t
realise how well it stacks up against other renewables. A comparative
at the University of Auckland found that tidal power has the lowest
carbon footprint measured against geothermal, large-scale hydroelectric,
and wind. Neptune Power, the creation of Christchurch engineers
Drs David Beach and Chris Bathurst, intends to trial its first turbine
off Cape Terawhiti, in the optimal tidal zone, the Karori Rip.
The Cook Strait is 23km wide and 250m at its
deepest. The generating zone is vast and deep, providing a stable
and expandable generating environment. Connection to the onshore
grid is conveniently close, as are maintenance facilities. A major
advantage is the relatively small up-front cost involved in the
Cook Strait infrastructure, of cabling and the sub-sea connection
unit. The cost of turbines/moorings is related only to demand. By
comparison, dam costs are all up-front.
Neptune applied for funding in the third round
of EECA’s Marine Energy Deployment Fund, but its application
was rejected on the grounds that the first phase is Research and
deployment. The company intends to secure private investor funds
to enable a NZ-designed prototype turbine to be built and placed
90m deep off Sinclair Head on Wellington's south coast. The multi-million
dollar research project received a resource consent from the Greater
Wellington Regional Council in April, having gained the support
of every affected party (19 in total) who were required to give
their unqualified approval. Altogether, 23 organisations have given
the project their unqualified approval.
Although using tidal energy will not immediately
bring down power prices, it will reduce exposure to the volatile
spot market during peak winter demand. It will also be reliable,
as exactly how much
power would be generated, and when, will be known in advance through
tide charts, unlike hydro or wind. All renewables generation is
weather/climate dependent – even geothermal because of the
cold sink temperature specification constraint – except for
In the long run, potential output from Cook Strait is estimated
at 17,000MW, and Foveaux Strait could produce another 5000MW. The
generation cost is estimated to be about 15c/kWH, and output
(kW per tonne of material) some four times more efficient than wind.
With the help of a major New Zealand investor like Contact, Neptune
Power could make New Zealand the envy of the world in
tidal energy innovation.
||There should be greater incentives for more distributed
generation from small-scale systems used on-site, or nearby, to generate
electricity for homes, farms, businesses and industries. It’s
obviously win-win when these generation projects are hooked up to
distribution network, and in turn connected to the national grid,
because of course electricity can flow both ways.
What price a river? The Clutha
is at the heart of our Otago identity. It cannot be replaced. It
is our responsibility, our past, our future, in perpetuity, and
it is not for sale. As we said at the outset, we have found it necessary
to examine the reasons for this investigation of large hydro options,
because the energy issue concerns all New Zealanders.
This issue is about all of us – the future
of New Zealand, and beyond. Coalitions of like-minded individuals
and organizations, with or without similar heritage values to protect,
will be welcomed. We all have a part to play. For all New Zealanders,
failure to adapt to the challenges we face will incur many costs,
but taking a lead will both improve our society and bring new opportunities
||This letter was signed by a number of eminent
scientists and residents concerned about the loss of rivers such as
|For further information
||The above is a much shortened version of the letter
as originally sent. Anyone who would like an electronic copy should
contact us at nzfishing.com