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Clutha Forum Launches ‘Option 5’ Campaign

Clutha Forum Launches ‘Option 5’ Campaign

Proposed dams on the Clutha River now face concerted opposition from several community and conservation groups who have formed a united Clutha River Forum. At a recent meeting in Alexandra, groups dedicated to saving the unique values of the region, resolved to work together to prevent further “Think Big” dams on the Clutha River.

The new forum has considered Contact Energy’s four dam options, and unanimously supports ‘Option 5 – no more dams’.

The forum also has support from the International Rivers organization. “International Rivers supports the global movement for free-flowing rivers and the rights of riverine communities,” said Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director, in an email message to the forum. “We support your efforts to save the Clutha River from future dam construction and to protect this majestic river for future generations. You are not alone, as literally millions of dam-affected people around the world are fighting for the same goals - to protect their rivers and their rights.”

Members of the Clutha River Forum include the Upper Clutha River Guardians, the Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group, the Central Otago Environmental Society, Save Central, the Beaumont Residents’ Group, the Lower Clutha River Guardians, and Forest and Bird - Dunedin Branch.

“The energy question concerns all New Zealanders,” said forum spokesperson, Lewis Verduyn. “This issue must be presented in the wider context of energy problems and solutions.

Poorly informed people cannot make informed decisions.”

The forum believes that the public has been misled, citing a public misconception that soaring power prices can only be addressed by building new generation, when “history shows that the consumer is likely to fund this additional generation through higher power prices.”

Members said that the New Zealand energy sector is structured to encourage profiteering from electricity generation, which reduces the producer’s incentive to invest in energy conservation.

“Customers have a cost incentive to save energy, but producers have a profit incentive to sell more.”

Past restructuring of the energy sector has failed to deliver efficiencies. Instead, energy companies have manipulated the supply and demand equation to reap enormous profits. This problem can only be addressed by restructuring the energy sector to incentivize energy conservation at every stage of electricity production, management, and distribution.

“This is part of a much wider problem,” says Lewis Verduyn. “As a society we are engaged in the unsustainable pursuit of growth without a proper environmental accounting process. That’s why all our so-called resources, and our rivers, are in terminal decline. Change will be difficult because our decision-makers, in politics and business, are accustomed to the existing failing paradigms of economics and governance. In terms of energy, we need to plan for our future now, by maximizing what we have, and by choosing the most sustainable long-term generation options.”

Forum members agreed that energy efficiency measures can significantly reduce or negate the need for new generation capacity. In most cases, these demand reductions can be achieved at less cost than constructing new generation.

At the same time there is a need for New Zealand to move away from unsustainable generation using oil, coal, gas fired power stations and large-scale hydro. The group regards Contact Energy’s claim that more Clutha dams are among our “best renewable” options, as “old strategies dressed in green-washed language.”

“There is a myth that large hydro is clean, green and renewable,” says Lewis Verduyn. “Large concrete gravity dams have a full life carbon footprint that is 2 to 6 times larger than an average wind farm (another poor option), and as we’ve seen on the Clutha, large dams cause serious environmental and community impacts, submerge productive land, and impose longterm costs, risks and liabilities relating to reservoir sedimentation, floods, instability and decommissioning that are highly problematic.”

Because of problems with large dams (over 10 MW) they are no longer defined as a “renewable” energy by many organizations including the World Wildlife Fund. More than 260 organisations have signed the International Rivers declaration to exclude large hydro, over 10 MW, from renewable energy initiatives in the carbon offset market.

Lewis Verduyn said “There is no place for more large dams in New Zealand, because they cannot provide a sustainable, reliable and expandable energy solution. If energy demand grows by as much as 2.5% annually as predicted we would need the equivalent of one Luggate dam (86 MW) every 6 months, or one Tuapeka dam (350 MW) every 25 months, or another Clyde dam (432 MW) every 29 months. This is obviously unsustainable. We are running out of rivers. Clearly a long-term solution is needed.”

Members of the forum identified the Cook Strait tidal power option as the single largest and most promising “new” renewable energy available to New Zealand, capable of providing more than 17000 MW. It has a guaranteed weather-independent output, a relatively low material cost, and the lowest carbon footprint of any form of generation in New Zealand. The forum believes that this innovative underwater technology, which is being developed by Neptune Power, offers substantial opportunities for New Zealand in a quickly changing world.

Nationwide, a range of initiatives are urgently needed to improve energy efficiency, reduce systemic waste in the energy sector, promote local generation and new renewables, and to develop lasting energy solutions.

The forum has embarked on an ‘Option 5 campaign – No More Dams’.


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