Getting windy in the front row

All Black hooker Anton Oliver’s been putting the boot into Meridian Energy’s plans to build a 176-turbine windfarm on the Lammermore Range near Dunedin, called Project Hayes. Oliver, and notables such as poet Brian Turner, don’t like the potential damage to the landscape, but Oliver’s been doing some research:

“When you look at the practicalities and economics of wind farms overseas, Meridian’s and the Government’s claims that this wind farm will ensure security of supply and help Mr and Mrs Consumer are quite outrageous,�’ Oliver said. “Meridian’s campaign seems to have been one of half truths, misinformation and fudging information. The more I have looked into it, the more this has seemed to me tantamount to a Government-sanctioned corporate rort.�”

Right. Thanks for that compelling analysis, Anton. Meridian CEO Keith Turner wasn’t much impressed either:

Turner, a veteran of the electricity industry, said: “Anton’s entitled to his view. He’s a great All Black, but is he a great energy analyst?�” Lots of Oliver’s ideas were flawed, he said. “I wouldn’t want to develop a power system around Anton’s ideas …�”

Meanwhile, a lot closer to Hot Topic‘s home, plans by Mainpower for a windfarm on Mt Cass, overlooking the Waipara Valley, will prove an interesting test case for the author because the site is slap in the middle of the view from his veranda. I shall therefore be following developments closely. Will I turn into an All Black hooker or noted poet? Or an apologist for the power men? How will my neighbours respond? We live in interesting times…

21 thoughts on “Getting windy in the front row”

  1. Actually, getting a guest post (from someone who knows) to explain the place of wind power in realtion to this whole base load thing would be quite handy….

  2. Not a bad idea. I’m going to do some research on this area anyway, because it might be relevant when discussing Mt Cass with neighbours (and because I’m interested 😉 ).

    To start with, here’s an interesting overview from in Australia (PDF). Good links there, too.

    In NZ, if we were to use our hydro resources less for baseload generation and more as back-up power, we could probably use a lot of wind. We are one of the windiest places in the world…

    The prospects for wave and tidal power around our coasts are also very good.

  3. Weren’t the last couple of power crises a result of lack of hydro storage rather than lack of peak generating capacity? That would suggest the use of hydro as back-up generation is eminently suited our situation.

  4. You’re correct. Our storage is low for the size of the hydro generation system. I seem to remember Augie Auer being interviewed at the time of the last hydro crisis, saying that we didn’t need more rain, we just needed to double the size of Lake Tekapo.

    The melting of the Tasman glacier (which is now inevitable) will create another lake above Tekapo – as far up as Ball Hut, but I’m not sure how much storage that’ll add to the system, or when.

  5. I think there are some good reasons for people to oppose Project Hayes (visual impact on a nationally significant landscape), but that’s not exactly Oliver’s finest moment.

    As for Mt Cass, if you’re concerned about visual impact, one proposal is for 0.5 MW turbines. This probably means Windflow 500’s, and the ones we have in PN are practically invisible. The other option, for 2.5 MW turbines, is likely to be quite stark from up close.

    Personally I find the sight of turbines spinning lazily in the sun quite soothing. But other people’s milage obviously varies, and it will be up to the local community to decide on their landscape values.

  6. I am the project manager for Mt Cass windfarm. Thanks for posting about us here Gareth, we look forward to hearing your and your neighbours views.
    It is interesting to hear Mr (Ms?) Savant’s opinion on Windflow turbines.

    There a few interrelated issues coming up on this thread (even after just 5 comments). I can’t claim great personal expertise on the ‘base load’ question but I can add a few thoughts of my own. Firstly, most of the comments here seem pretty much on the mark and I couldn’t describe the contribution to base load from wind any better than is written up in the links you provided, Gareth. The synopsis being that if you have plenty of wind generating plant spread throughout the country then you can make a significant contribution to base load. Although this contribution will be substantially less than the rated capacity (power rating) of the plant.

    I have seen a good demonstration of this from the website of the Spanish grid operator, where they log in semi-real time the power demand on the system and the power being provided by their substantial wind fleet. I’ll find the links and post them later, but in short you can see that most of the time the demand curve is changing a lot faster than the wind supply curve and that most of the time there is a significant contribution from wind. Thus despite being from a nominally intermittent source the wind is essentially providing Spain with base load. We see Mt Cass as making a good contribution to geographic diversity of wind power plants in NZ.

    But – a lot of your original post was about Anton Olivers comments. Fair enough that Anton has an opinion on the landscape effects of Project Hayes. But, it surprises me that he chooses to have a go at all windpower projects (see where Anton says “a German study released in February 2005 found that increasing the amount of wind power would increase consumer costs by 3.7 times and installing filters on existing fossil fuel plants would be more effective in reducing greenhouse gases”
    and that his views aren’t a bit more closely aligned with other “committed environmentalists” (like Greenpeace, WWF, Forest & Bird, The Green Party, David Suzuki, etc etc…..).
    I was concerned about the results of the German Study, it just doesn’t sound right….so I went looking for it……unfortunately I couldn’t find anything that quoted figures like “3.7 times”. I did find reference to the Germany Energy Agency (DENA) report (also released in early 2005) which made a few salient points.
    “Wind energy installations in Germany can expand from almost 17 GW today to 36 GW in 2015, and 48 GW in 2020.
    Wind energy increases only marginally the cost of electricity for the consumers.
    Wind energy can help to maintain the system security of supply even with a very significant percentage of the power supply.”
    The good news for NZ is that we have a very low percentage of our power supply in wind (approx 1% of electrical energy), hence a long way to go before we catch up with Germany. And, our wind is typically a lot stronger than in Germany meaning we can produce wind power at a lower cost.

    As for “installing filters on fossil fuel plants” – I may be out on a limb here but I thought that carbon sequestration by this means is still just experimental.

  7. Here is the Spanish grid operators info that I referred to above.
    Red Electrica demand curve (fingers crossed for a functioning hyperlink)
    On the right hand side of the screen is a link to the equivalent curve for wind supply.
    The message is contained in a comparison of the slope of the graphs (watch out for different scales). Usually the wind graph is changing slower than the demand graph.
    So when people say that backup is required to account for the variability of wind then they are only telling part of the story. The backup is needed anyway to keep the system in balance.

  8. And if that doesn’t work (which it doesn’t for me) try the “Tracking of Electricity Demand” command (on the toolbars at the top of the page)

  9. I think Anton is a fantastic rugby player, in fact he is my all time favorite. That’s favorite rugby player, not energy expert. Isnt it funny that Anton is making such a stick about this when he is all set to be signed on to a french rugby team after the world cup? Why create the stink only to leave the country and leave us to battle with our energy problems. The Heritage Trail people – they too have appossed the windfarm – despite the fact that the many land owners open their land for heritage trail trips! And again – the department of conversation oppossed the windfarm – have you forgotten the Te Papanui coservation park that was established by the large contributing of those land owners who are involved in Project Hayes. One person who has submitted his opposition suggested focussing on hydro power in the waitaki – hello? Have we already forgotten Project Aqua?? NZ are full of hypocrites who talk sweetly one day and stab you in the back the next – are we not one nation, should we not be in one accord? The wind farm has been carefully researched and considered from all angles by Meridian and their proposal is a sound one. It’s time NZ’ers start working toward thought out solutions such as Project Hayes, instead of being tall poppies.

  10. “We see Mt Cass as making a good contribution to geographic diversity of wind power plants in NZ.”

    Yes but perhaps not such a great contribution to biodiversity. Mt Cass and Project Hayes pose very different problems. Threatened plant and lizard habitats are, to my mind, the key issues with Mt Cass; the effect on the landscape is the key issue with Project Hayes.

    I get the feeling we are in the midst of a gold run with respect to wind farm proposals. In the consent applications that are then filed, little space is devoted to discussing alternative sites. I do wonder whether this needs to be addressed at a national level. That is, nationally we need to survey possible sites so that we are then in a better position to weigh up the merits of any one proposal.

    Take Mt Cass as an example. Would anyone support this proposal if transpired that by siting the farm a couple of ridges over, one could get almost the same generation capacity and at the same time avoid damaging a rare limestone ecosystem?

  11. Well, we can only look forward to Anton’s analytical skills being improved by his time at Oxford (or was it Cambridge?).
    Environment Waikato, who are a very progressive regional council, include a question about the visual impacts of windfarms in one of their annual surveys. it asks people if they would be happy to see one from their window.
    We look straight at the Brookilyn wind turbine out our window and I can report that it is an endlessly pleasing sight.

  12. Via the magic of the internet, I do know what you mean:

    They have their place…here and there. Could be that rural-ites haven’t been desensitised to industrial-urban landscapes like urbanites have, that’s why they object so vociferously. For some reason, I quite like the idea of being surrounded by wind turbines in Wellington! My theory is the moral of the city would wax and wane with the operation (or not) of the turbines.

  13. Jim

    On the contrary, a windfarm on Mt Cass can make a great contribution to maintaining biodiversity.

    There are 370 ha of indigenous vegetation on limestone (or limestone derived) substrate in the immediate vicinity of the windfarm.  Only a small proportion of which is protected by virtue of being on a DoC reserve or subject to covenant.   In return for the right to build a windfarm we are willing to arrange for permanent protection of other areas of significant habitat on the site.

    The price for this will be to allow us to clear about 2ha of bush and 3ha of shrubland ie 1.4% of what is in the neighbourhood…about half of this area will be available for regeneration.  So for less than 1% permanent clearance there will be covenanted protection and active management (eg pest control) by a commercial operator.  Plus the benefit of a local, renewable energy source.

    For threatened plants – the latest plant threat rankings give us Heliohebe as ‘nationally endangered’ – this lives on the steep northern escarpment and won’t be affected by the windfarm.   And, limestone wheatgrass as ‘nationally vulnerable’ but 90% of the known wheatgrass on the site is on the southern slopes below where the windfarm will be.  All plant species will still be on the site after the wind farm is built and they will have a better environment to thrive in.

    As for lizards, our survey found plenty of habitat but not so many lizards, maybe the cats, stoats and possums have something to do with that.  or perhaps the cattle make life hard for the tussock dwelling skinks.  All can be managed to make for a better life for lizards.

    If we don’t build a wind farm the likely destiny for this site is that it continues to be grazed by cattle and sheep.  If by some chance it were to become a reserve then the taxpayer will be picking up the cost of a) buying the land and b) maintaining it in perpetuity.

    So, which is the best deal?

    You ask about alternative sites – we have looked, and continue to look, around North Canterbury for sites which could offer the same generation capacity (which I take to mean a combination of wind resource and site size). Of course we would develop a site of lesser ecological value if we could find one, but wind farms will always be better placed on some other ridge, in somebodies opinion. Having a national conversation about what are deemed suitable sites could take many years to sort out but the time to build new generation is now and the time to get onto a 90% renewables path is now. If we don’t it will be gas plants, deployed in a hurry “to ensure security of supply” and then most probably a long term commitment to importing LNG.

    Our consent application should be publicly notified very soon and you will be able to read it all, have a close look at the drawings of what is involved and read the full (and substantially updated) ecology report which outlines the mitigation measures we propose.


  14. Carol

    I have heard similar comments to your “endlessly pleasing sight” from residents of the Manawatu (and of course there are just a few more to look at there).

  15. Andrew

    You may be an expert on ecological matters. Yet I note that other experts in ecology and conservation have expressed reservations about the ecological impact of Mainpower’s proposal. That you would write “a windfarm on Mt Cass can make a great contribution to maintaining biodiversity” does lead me to question either your expertise or your objectivity. I am not an expert myself. So I’ll just make a number of points – points that I’ve heard other experts make – and you, with your expertise, will no doubt be able to set the record straight.

    The construction corridor runs – naturally enough – along the crest of the ridge. Because there are very different environmental conditions on either side of the ridge, I’ve heard that the ridge line offers an unusual mix of conditions and hence supports a number of rare and endangered species. Here’s a quote from Mainpower’s proposal that seems to prove my point: “The unusual geomorphology, micro-environment variability, biogeography, and local environmental conditions of the Mt Cass ridgeline have also resulted in a relatively unique floristic assemblage and an unusual and complex species composition.” Mainpower’s proposal may only affect 1.4% of the wider area, but the specific area affected would seem to be both particularly sensitive and ecologically important.

    The problem with rare and endangered species is that being rare, they are actually quite hard to find. I know this sounds terribly obvious, but the implication is that if Mainpower doesn’t put the effort in to identify rare species, it may simply never know that they are there. For example, Mainpower’s ecologists spend only 45 hours searching for lizard species (41 hours by day and 4 by night) and in that time, could only search a small fraction of the area in the construction corridor. That’s not a long time to spend if you’re looking for a rare species. Again a quote from Mainpower’s proposal would seem to prove my point – this concerns efforts to identify invertebrates: “Numerous specimens that were collected were unable or unfeasible to be identified to species-level; additionally, numerous species were presumably missed during the survey, particularly as considerable effort is required to detect less common species.” Andrew – are you really so sure Mainpower knows what it is about to destroy?

    As a mitigation strategy, Mainpower proposes to “Re-plant or replace any threatened plant species which are killed during construction.” I’m not sure how you replace the threatened plant that you’ve just killed. Dig plants up from somewhere else and move them? I’m not sure that this really helps the survival of a threatened species. And if you’ve just destroyed the micro-habitat that species survives in, where are you going to re-plant? I don’t think it’s that simple. I’ve heard DOC has had at best mixed success with its efforts to restore damaged plant communities and re-establish rare species at sites where they were once found.

    The same problems apply to this strategy: “Re-locate a representative sample of the lizard fauna from areas of the site which will be physically disturbed during construction.” Where are you going to relocate these lizards to if you’ve just destroyed their habitat? I assume that only “a representative sample” needs to be relocated because the species in question is “locally common”. This phrase really makes me wonder if Mainpower understands the concept of biodiversity. “Locally common” means a large gene pool; an important prerequisite for a healthy population. It should not be an excuse for decimating a nationally rare species.

    Yes I can see that both removing stock and predator control will bring benefits. But these benefits need to be balanced against risks. Arial photos suggest that “forest patches and grey shrubland habitats have been increasing the density of their canopy cover and extending their range to cover larger parts of the site… indigenous ecosystems on the Mt Cass ridgeline are resilient enough to regenerate themselves and increase their distribution.” The remnant plant and animal communities are probably remnant because they can survive despite grazing and predation. Some plant and animal communities will no doubt thrive once these threats are reduced or removed. Yet other plant and animal communities may simply disappear if this proposal proceeds. That’s why this proposal represents a risk to biodiversity.

    The Resource Management process is a balancing exercise. We have to weigh up the positive and negative effects of a proposal. Unless we undertake this exercise with a clear and honest appreciation of risks and benefits, we will not – as a society – make good decisions. From what I’ve read of Mainpower’s proposal – and I’ve not read the version just released a day or two ago – Mainpower seems just a tad economical with the truth when discussing the risks of their proposal to threatened species.

    And yes, Andrew, I can appreciate the need to act sooner rather than later. But making good decisions is also important. So let’s have all the information Mainpower has collected on alternatives to this site. This information seems to be missing from the earlier proposal. Is it in the version just released? And if it’s not in the latest version, can the public have access to it please? Then we’d all be in a better position to weight up the risks and benefits of this site relative to its alternatives. That’s my challenge to you Andrew. Give us all the information you have.

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