Just as the tide was flowing

by Bryan Walker on February 9, 2011

Two disparate news items in New Zealand newspapers highlight some of the problems facing any switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The first is the Environment Court’s welcome approval of Crest Energy’s application to sink 200 turbines to the sea bed of the Kaipara Harbour where the strong tidal flow will be used to generate electricity. The decision follows a 2008 appeal to the Court by Crest Energy against the Northland Regional Council’s decision to allow only 100 turbines. Environmental objection centred around the possible effect on the west coast snapper stocks and possible threats to the survival of the rare Maui’s dolphin. I wrote about the project and other NZ wave and tidal energy projects in a Hot Topic post a year or so ago.

 

The Environment Court approval is hedged with conditions. Crest can sink three turbines initially. If results with three turbines satisfy the Northland Regional Council, the company can add up to 17 more turbines, provided operation of the 20 turbines is monitored for a year to give sufficient information on the impact on fisheries. From there, the council will decide whether to allow turbines to be built up in further stages from 20 to 40, then 80 and then to a maximum of 200.

The director-general of conservation wanted the monitoring of the 20 turbines to last three years, not one. Another iwi-based objector wanted at least three years of monitoring after each stage. The environment court’s decision followed a year of mediation among four objectors.

It’s not my purpose to criticise the objections or the conditions imposed by the Court. Renewable energy development has environmental effects which must be taken into account and judgments made, and I’m certainly in no position to weigh the factors in specific cases. But one hopes that climate change carries very considerable weight in the process. I notice the judge is quoted as saying the proposal is very significant in terms of its contribution to power generation and the national economic interest. Maybe he also said something about the importance of renewable energy in combating climate change and it wasn’t reported. Maybe he linked the national economic interest to clean power and emissions reduction. But maybe that’s outside the Court’s scope.

Which brings me to the second news item where the Grey District mayor pleads for the Pike River mine to be turned into an opencast operation.  There’s billions of dollars’ worth of coal there and the mayor even goes so far as to say that the deceased miners would want to see mining continue. One has to sympathise with the anxieties of West Coast communities whose livelihoods are to a considerable extent bound up with mining. The mayor was explicit that the financial benefits of opencast mining outweigh environmental concerns. Unfortunately he’s wrong if environmental concerns include global warming. There are plenty of environmental concerns around opencast mining of any kind, but when the object is coal those concerns are far greater than the localised disruption and pollution caused by the mining. Climate change concerns overshadow all kinds of coal mining for that matter.

This is tricky territory. West Coast coal is generally of a quality which makes it suitable for steel making and as such is a valuable export product. The coal industry in New Zealand has been invigorated in recent years. Obviously for the time being steel-making is going to need coking coal. Why should New Zealand not benefit financially from supplying that need?

It’s a fair question. However it’s not apparent that anyone involved in the coal industry or in government for that matter thinks in terms of supplying an interim need while the world organises itself to live without coal. That’s not the impetus driving our coal industry. That doesn’t explain Solid Energy’s plans to exploit Southland lignite. The thinking behind the expansion of coal mining and exporting is that there is a lot of money to be made from exploiting our coal resources to their fullest extent. Any cautionary sentiments seem to be along the lines of making sure we don’t move too slowly and miss out on the bonanza.

What unites these two seemingly unrelated pieces of news? The need to give full weight to the enormous threat of climate change. In the one case it lends strong support to a new venture. In the other it warns that the days of coal mining must be considered near an end. At least that’s the logic of the situation we’re in. But apart from the Greens there’s hardly a politician in the country who seems willing to say just that. They seem to be overcome with a collective embarrassment at the thought of expressing deep concern at the prospect of climate change, let alone applying that concern to the coal industry. The embarrassment that appears to inhibit them is dwarfed by the embarrassment of watching them virtually ignore a matter of such consequence for the human future.

[Eliza Carthy]

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas February 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I guess the fact that the first 4th gen nuclear plant will be built in China says it all. In my mind we are at the Apollo Program phase of alternative energy concepts. It took just 11 years from Sputnik to the moon landing!!!
Lets not forget that. And that was at a time when computers were not really there yet….
Today the word RISK puts an end to much that is possible.
If we wanted to and if the red tape brigade was back to levels of the 1950ies, we could really do so much! We could perhaps indeed advance our abilities to provide alternative power within a reasonable time frame.

Kiwiiano February 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I started to write in with a suggestion that burning coal is OK if the resultant CO2 is immediately captured for feedstock to algae plants for conversion to liquid fuels and plastics, etc, something that is increasingly feasible.
Except that it’s still not OK unless those products are not eventually broken down to produce CO2, something that is very unlikely. ANY fossil carbon released into the atmosphere will eventually add to our problems.

Bryan Walker February 10, 2011 at 8:55 am

Yes, I commented on that aspect of algae production enhanced by industrially-produced CO2 here. It’s a delay in emission rather than a sequestration, though it may be useful.

Thomas February 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Indeed. Same with the Dutch concepts to use CO2 from power plants to enhance growth in green houses. Sure some efficiency is gained in plant matter production but the carbon then enters the bio-cycle.

Carbon removed from the geological deposits is not removed from the problems it causes until it is returned to the geological deposits.

CTG February 10, 2011 at 7:22 am

The piece about the tide turbines showed how extraordinarily resistant to change most people are. These things are enormous lumps of concrete, with blades rotating at only 6rpm max. Dolphins have sonar. It’s not as if the turbines are going to be leaping out from behind a clump of seaweed like the Spanish Inquisition – I think the dolphins will be able to work out that there is something they need to avoid. Likewise, fish have lateral line organs that can detect movement. The chances of Kaipara harbour turning red with macerated snapper are pretty low.

Roger Dewhurst February 14, 2011 at 5:22 am

They are likely to be an expensive failure for a number of reasons:

The turbines are said to have magnetic bearings. There is magnetic titano-magnetite being moved steadily northward along the coast. That will not do much for the bearings.

Because there is ample space for water to flow around them the head losses across them will be minimal. They may spin nicely under no load but put some load on them and the water will find somewhere else to go.

The currents and waves inside the Kaipara bar are capable of moving decent sized goolies which will not do much for the turbine blades. Even two pounds of lead does not keep a fishing line anywhere near the boat!

Will they work covered in oysters?

Arnold Wilson February 16, 2011 at 7:43 am

Yeah right – and the sky’s falling – have you been to the Kaipara Roger?

It might interest you to know that Winstones have been mining building sand out of the entrance for 50 years with no so-called magnetic titano-magnetite (iron sand?).

Secondly, these units have been spinning around in Ireland and Orkney for three years with load – and guess what -THEY WORK!

You’re right about the high tidal flows that’s why its a good place to put these things – but the turbines are 2-3m above the seabed where the goolies (assume you mean rocks??) roll.

Oysters wont survive in the 35m water depth with 3 m/sec currents in high suspended sand load – its like thesetrubines will be in a continuous water/sand blaster so nothing will grow on them.

All these points and many more were thrashed out over the last 5 years at Council hearings and in the Environment Court.

Roger Dewhurst February 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm

> Yeah right – and the sky’s falling – have you been to the Kaipara Roger?

Yes. Have you?
>
> It might interest you to know that Winstones have been mining building sand out of the entrance for 50 years with no so-called magnetic titano-magnetite (iron sand?).
>

Yes. They are taking sand from well inside the entrance. What evidence do you have that the sand they collect does not contain titano-magnetite?

> Secondly, these units have been spinning around in Ireland and Orkney for three years with load – and guess what -THEY WORK!
>

Is that so? Are you sure? Do you want to bet your balls on that?

> You’re right about the high tidal flows that’s why its a good place to put these things – but the turbines are 2-3m above the seabed where the goolies (assume you mean rocks??) roll.
>
> Oysters wont survive in the 35m water depth with 3 m/sec currents in high suspended sand load – its like thesetrubines will be in a continuous water/sand blaster so nothing will grow on them.
>
> All these points and many more were thrashed out over the last 5 years at Council hearings and in the Environment Court.
>

I suppose you have swallowed wind power, hook line and sinker.

Arnold Wilson February 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm

1. If you’ve been in the Kaipara you’d know there isn’t the iron sand you refer to.
2. Sand mining is right next to where the Crest project is located
3. I’ve seen turbines working in the UK – don’t know about betting my balls but someone is putting some big $$ into this thing – to the tune of tens of millions to start-up.
4. I don’t see what wind power has to do with this but shouldn’t we be doing all we can to save the planet from the ravages of burning fossil fuels!

Roger Dewhurst February 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm

1. If you’ve been in the Kaipara you’d know there isn’t the iron sand you refer to.

Do you suppose the longshore drift stops at the Waikato Heads?

2. Sand mining is right next to where the Crest project is located

Not where I have seen the dredges!

3. I’ve seen turbines working in the UK – don’t know about betting my balls but someone is putting some big $$ into this thing – to the tune of tens of millions to start-up.

4. I don’t see what wind power has to do with this but shouldn’t we be doing all we can to save the planet from the ravages of burning fossil fuels!

A similar mind set leading to a similar cock-up. So you are going to save the planet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Grow up.

Arnold Wilson February 18, 2011 at 8:14 am

Roger – chill out.

1. As you probably well know sand with a high iron content is unsuitable for concrete manufacture – so why then would Winstones extract sand close to the turbine site (up-harbour) and McCallum Bros. propose to mine sand at the entrance (down-harbour) – both sand miners are supplying the Auckland construction sector with sand for concrete? As I said earlier there ain’t any iron sand at the Crest site.

2. Saving the planet – when I refer to fossil fuels I’m talking about things like particulates, NOx and SOx – its our choice – do we blindly continue to dump pollutants into the air and water, or do we look at alternatives. Only a cynical blinkered old doom merchant would say lets roll on with pumping crap into the environment. So Yeah lets try to save the bloody planet its the only one we’ve got!

3. You close with a plea to “Grow up” – your continual references to “cock-up” and betting “your balls” indicate to me a worrying genital fixation – I suggest you, sir, are the one who should show a little maturity here.

Roger Dewhurst May 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Regarding ironsand just read the evidence given to the Environment Court. There is plenty of it there as should be expected.

CTG February 18, 2011 at 8:35 am

Big mistake, Arnold. You have based your reply to Roger on logic and evidence. He will now call you a communist, and tell you that you are too young to have any experience of the real world. Just be thankful you aren’t a woman, in which case he would add in some sexist abuse, and tell you to go back to your knitting.

The last time Roger did any critical thinking was about 1965.

Roger Dewhurst February 18, 2011 at 11:05 am

1. As you probably well know sand with a high iron content is unsuitable for concrete manufacture – so why then would Winstones extract sand close to the turbine site (up-harbour) and McCallum Bros. propose to mine sand at the entrance (down-harbour) – both sand miners are supplying the Auckland construction sector with sand for concrete? As I said earlier there ain’t any iron sand at the Crest site.

Are you sure that they do not wash the sand through a trommel removing the fines and the titano-magnetite with them? The heavy blacksand will always accompany much coarser, and lighter, quartz and feldspar sand. The blacksand sized particles are not required for concrete anyway.

R

Roger Dewhurst May 6, 2011 at 10:58 am

Evidence of blacksand deposits in the harbour entrance was presented to the Environment Court.

There are mussel beds in the Graveyard channel.

Mike Palin February 10, 2011 at 8:04 am

The decision to burn coal or switch to renewable/nuclear is the defining moment of the war on AGW. For 21st century New Zealand to be on the threshold of investing in lignite – the dirtiest of all fossil fuels – is the pinnacle of stupidity.

Carol Cowan February 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I agree with you, Mike. Too many Southlanders are thinking of only the income and jobs that will be produced from lignite mining down here.

I read an apt line in “In the Wet” by Nevil Shute recently – “The common man has had the voting power, and the voting man has voted consistently to increase his own standard of living, regardless of the long-term interests of his children, regardless of the wider interests of his country.” That was published in 1953.

RW February 12, 2011 at 8:25 am

Very apt Carol. Now we have talkback radio, whose net effect seems to be to reinforce the habits and prejudices of the “common man”.

Tom Bennion February 10, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I was involved in the consents process over Project West Wind. There was an agreed statement of evidence that climate change is happening, so it did not figure largely in the evidence as it was not argued but accepted.

On Project Hayes, the Environment Court and the High Court said that the RMA assumes climate change attributable to humans is happening, so councils and the Environment Court are entitled to use that as a starting point. Debating how bad impacts are going to be is still possible.

There wont be an open cast mine at Pike River. Environmental considerations – nothing to do with climate change – make that an impossibility. It would take a government committed to wholesale removal of statutory protections over our conservation lands (I know, sounds like National, but it would have to be legislation a whole lot worse than the recent proposals to make an open cast Pike River happen).

On the legal front, we have in my view unfortunately made 2 big mistakes:

1) taken minerals out of the RMA in 1991 – so you cant argue about finite resources etc and end uses when consents to mine coal are sought (you can argue that in Australia). We could have been having that discussion since 1991 and would have some better developed law about moving to renewables etc.

2) Taken emissions of GHG from new developments out of the RMA – on the basis that the ETS will deal with that issue. Good plan, except that the ETS is very, very weak and has become political cover for doing nothing.

Had GHG emissions remained in the RMA we would be hearing a lot more arguments about GHG as each new coal fired operation came up. We need that discussion urgently.

Bryan Walker February 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for the informed contribution Tom, partly reassuring and partly not. The question of the weight the climate change issue carries against objections to a particular project is I guess not easily quantified. I struggled somewhat with it myself in relation to the proposed Mokihinui dam.

Roger Dewhurst February 14, 2011 at 5:26 am

There will not be an open pit mine at Pike River because the overburden ratio is too high.

Perhaps if we had a proper Mines Department with a proper Mines Inspectorate the mine would still be producing coal and there would have been no fatalities.

CTG February 14, 2011 at 9:55 am

Perhaps if we still had children working down the mines, then nobody would care how many died. Just like the good old days when you were young, eh Roger?

David Beach February 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

Crest Energy is to be commended for persisting with their drive to extract power from the Kaipara. Any electrical generation North of Auckland is a strategic plus.
Crest’s future problems are twofold: (1) The OpenHydro turbine is not yet developed to a working system, especially after the disaster at the Bay of Fundy, and (2) there probably will be significant problems with silt scouring and erosion in the Kaipara Heads channel.
However, as a Director of Neptune Power Ltd, struggling with its own startup problems, I wish Crest the very best of development success.

Roger Dewhurst February 14, 2011 at 5:29 am

We can do without heaps of concrete and steel rubbish tangling fishing lines.

Arnold Wilson February 16, 2011 at 7:53 am

David
What is your basis for saying there “probably will be significant problems with silt scouring and erosion in the Kaipara Heads Channel” – this was thrashed out over many years ending with an agreed statement by 7 of NZ’s coastal processes experts, each of whom work in and know the Kaipara, that such effects are unlikely. Do you know something they don’t?
As for the OH unit in Bay of Fundy – what would you expect from sticking turbines in such a hostile environment – water velocities 3X higher than Kaipara, Icebergs in Winter and boulders bouncing along seabed due to huge water velocities – Kaipara much more benign. In fact the Bay of Fundy is more like Cook Strait – and who would want to stick a turbine in there.

Roger Dewhurst May 6, 2011 at 11:05 am

CREST ENERGY KAIPARA PROJECT

Abstract:
The Crest Energy Kaipara Project will fail for two reasons. Magnetic sands will damage the turbines and reduced tidal currents in the turbine field will result in deposition of sand around the turbines with resulting loss of performance and possible destruction of the undersea cables.

[snipped: Roger, you know the rules. Post a link to the doc, not the whole thing. GR]

Roger Dewhurst May 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm

There is no link to the document. I wrote it. Now perhaps you will put it back.

Gareth May 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Nope. Post a copy to the web somewhere, and link to that. I’m not your web host.

Roger Dewhurst May 9, 2011 at 7:30 am

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