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Alternatives To Damming Public's Rivers Needed

Alternatives To Damming Public's Rivers Needed

by Ian Rodger, President NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers

New Zealand needs urgently to find alternatives to corporate power companies damming public rivers.

The reality is New Zealand has a finite number of rivers and particularly free flowing unmodified ones. To continue exploiting free flowing rivers for private profit is incompatible with New Zealand's clean green image, so eagerly espoused by governments. It is simply hypocritical.

Hydroelectricity generation dominates electricity generation. Figures for 2005 show of renewable source generation:- 58% was from hydroelectricity.

Solar, wind and wood are under-utilised and there are new alternatives to explore such as tidal. Coal fired power stations if proven clean burning with modern, clean burning technology should be considered.

In addition, upgrading of transmission lines could result in substantial power savings. However companies scaremonger as shown in TrustPower 's resource consent application to divert and privatise 80 percent of Marlborough's Wairau River. Trustpower has played the "fear factor" card in telling the Marlborough public, dire predictions of power cuts.

The reality is quite the opposite for upgrading of transmission lines has resulted in much reduced losses in transmission. The top of the South Island, according to one lines company, as a result of line upgrades has ample power through until 2020.

Then there is nuclear power. The public debate on nuclear power is confused by ideology and politics. Open dispassionate debate is needed.

However there are far more politically and environmentally acceptable alternatives to consider.

  • Coal-fired power stations such as in regions of adequate and suitable coal resources e.g. Southland, West Coast, King Country and Waikato. Technological developments suggest that the new coal fired power stations (and nuclear) are very much improved in environmental terms. In Australia, 60 percent of electricity is generated by thermal coal fired power stations.
  • Exotic forest waste. This is practised in Europe. In view of New Zealand's major plantings of exotics, it is amazing that more has not been made of this energy source, given New Zealand's claim to be "clean and green."
  • Wind power. This matter has received considerable public debate with objections to noise and visual impact. Wind is also erratic and often minimal in winter when power demand is highest.

  • Tidal flow. Recently the merit of tidal power in Cook Strait and the Kaipara and Manukau Harbours has been advocated. The Government should be seriously be looking at tidal power. Tides are a constant.

  • Geothermal. There has been considerable exposure given to increasing the efficiency of 'geothermal' resources in terms of efficiency.

  • Solar power. Government should be giving incentives and researching solar power particularly for a high sunshine area as Marlborough, Nelson, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and South Canterbury. Government has only given little lip-service to encouraging solar power in homes. Double glazing should also be encouraged.

The destructive Bradford energy "reforms", of privatising the energy sector have resulted in a desire by corporate power companies, with strong foreign ownership, having the underlying motive to simply maximise returns for the company's shareholders. The result is higher, climbing power bills for consumers and pressure on public resources such as rivers.

Governments ignore responsibility to the environment and the public by a creed of "market forces" controlling the situation. This is naive in the extreme and a fallacy.

Yet government subsidises Comalco's use of hydroelectricity generated at Manapouri. Foreign-based Comalco has a confidential agreement with government. It is reputed to use 15 % of NZ's electricity which it reportedly gets at heavily subsidised rates. A cost-benefit analysis may well show the New Zealand taxpayer is losing. Ironically the Manapouri scheme is in a National Park, i.e. a "people's park" and it is utilising public water. If Comalco is a net loss to New Zealand, the government should terminate the agreement and make the multi-national company pay market rates. If Comalco lost the subsidisation on power costs, it may well close down. Thus that 15 percent electricity could then be used for public consumption.

Another aspect to the debate on the electricity resource is population. It doesn't matter what resource is the focus, people use resources. More people mean an increased demand for resources such as power. More people mean an increase in electricity usage which leads to a demand for more generation. New Zealand completely lacks a 'population policy', let alone a 'generation and transmission' policy.

Footnote: Ian Rodger is president of the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers, a nation-wide "umbrella" for trout fishing clubs and an advocacy for the public's trout fisheries hand habitat.


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