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An open letter opposing the Clutha Dam Proposals

Photo: Alpine Fishing Guides

The 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 doug@nzfishing.com

Introduction 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 of
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 system.

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 that
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 shining.

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 study
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 Development, not
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 tidal.
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.

Distributed Generation 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 a local
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 for business.

Signatories This letter was signed by a number of eminent scientists and residents concerned about the loss of rivers such as the Clutha.
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








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