The Mokihinui Gorge dam

April 8th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Commissioners who gave the green light to an 80m-high hydro dam in the north of Westport were overwhelmed by the gorge’s natural beauty, but said there were other equally beautiful gorges in the area.

John Lumsden, a civil engineer, and West Coast councillor Terry Archer outvoted fellow hearings commissioner Greg Ryder to say yes to the dam – the largest flooding of conservation land for hydro power ever proposed in New Zealand.

Explaining why they gave consent, the pair said: “If the Mokihinui River were to be considered in isolation, it would be difficult not to form the view that to build a dam and flood to gorge would be a travesty.

“When we walked through several sections … we could not help but be overwhelmed by its natural beauty.”

But they said that beauty was not unique on the West Coast, or even in the Buller District.

The renewable electricity the dam generated would give locals a more reliable power supply and take a load off fossil-fuelled power stations during dry years, they said.

This is the challenge facing NZ. If we want to have more renewable supply, then we need more dams. Yet, a dam has an environmental impact also.

What would people rather have – another coal powered power station, that only impacts a small area (yet releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases), or a renewable power hydro dam which impacts a larger area?

Some in the environmental movement are against all new energy projects. But that is a recipie for blackouts in a few years.

I’ve don’t know enough about Mokihinui to say whether the Commissioners made the right decision or not. But my challange to those who say it should not go ahead, is to specify an alternate location on the West Coast for a new power station.

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76 Responses to “The Mokihinui Gorge dam”

  1. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    That’ll go down well on the coast. The Mokhinui is one of the best whitebaiting and fishing rivers on the coast, and is also popular with kayakers and rafters.

    There is actually a proposal (currently under resource consent notification) by Solid Energy to build a station just down the road, at Ngakawau. The idea is to take treated mine water from the Stockton Plateau and pipe it through a station on the coast. Not only will it provide a solution to the lack of power stations on the coast (currently all electricity comes across the alps from Nelson and Christchurch) but it will also be a sustainable and profitible long term solution to the acid mine drainage problem that Solid Energy inherited. I wonder if the commissioners took that into consideration?

    The people of the West Coast are not anti progress – far from it, they usually leave that to people in the cities – however I do think that there will be a public backlash from the local community over this one.

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  2. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    “I’ve don’t know enough about Mokihinui to say whether the Commissioners made the right decision or not. But my challange to those who say it should not go ahead, is to specify an alternate location on the West Coast for a new power station.”

    It should not go ahead the area is to important, there are plenty of hydro schemes proposed on the Coast that are far less destructive, some with approval already given. In Buller Solid energy has a very good hydro scheme planned so there will be no power problems for the locals.
    And anything involving regional councillors is a bit of a joke, the council has basically become an advocacy agency for mining and dairying down here of late, probably the most “official” old boys network in the country.

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  3. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    But that is a recipie for blackouts in a few years.

    Indeed. Check out North Korea at night.

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  4. BlairM (2,339 comments) says:

    Can we get rid of this stupid Nuclear Free bullshit now, and just build some freaking power stations? The eyesore of a couple of cooling towers is not going to blight the scenery as much as flooding an entire valley will.

    Also, there’s been a lot more collapsed dams in history than there has been nuclear power meltdowns. Think about that ;-)

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  5. big bruv (13,888 comments) says:

    Well said BlairM

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  6. adrianb (30 comments) says:

    As stated, the Stockton Pleateau project and the Arnold dam could provide well enough power for the West Coast. This project is simply gratuitous environmental vandalism. I never thought in my life that I would look to Peter Dunne in hope and wonder, but he is utterly correct in his opposition to this appalling decision.

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  7. RRM (9,919 comments) says:

    I hope they have learned from Clyde, and budgeted for slope stabilisation (work to prevent catastrophic landslides) around the proposed lake. And I wonder if you can do that work without ripping out all of the trees…?

    2x random thoughts about hydroelectric power:

    (1) Above the dam, you destroy a river & valley, but you gain a lake.
    (2) Below the dam, you still have a river & valley. The flow in the river is just more controlled and constant.

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  8. Waymad (136 comments) says:

    Or, just bury a Hyperion Power Module in an old mine and ferget about it for 40 years…

    Bill Gates is putting his not inconsiderable fortune where it counts, too.

    Tom Scott once wrote that, if a heroin-packing plant was mooted for Southland, there’d be lines round the block to sign up for the work.

    Just try telling a Coaster that they can’t have their dam….

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  9. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    Well the nuclear power station would have to be close to Auckland so sweet as, could finally cut the power cord to the North island and have power for 89cents per year!!

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  10. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Above the dam, you destroy a fishery and a recreation area.

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  11. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    “(1) Above the dam, you destroy a river & valley, but you gain a lake.”

    And the one thing the South Island needs more of is lakes!! ;)

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  12. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    “Just try telling a Coaster that they can’t have their dam….”

    Just try telling them they can’t have their White bait!!!

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  13. jag (52 comments) says:

    @ gazzmaniac

    “There is actually a proposal (currently under resource consent notification) by Solid Energy to build a station just down the road, at Ngakawau.”

    I think you’ll find that this proposal was made and consents obtained by Hydro Developments LImited:
    http://www.hydrodevelopments.co.nz/

    All Solid Energy did was get wind of the idea, then for all intents and purposes copy the plans and decide to be arseholes about the whole affair.

    The Stockton project (25MW) is of a magnitude smaller than that of Mokihinui (80MW). Not exactly sure of situation as far as constraints and security of supply go on the coast – given the population I would have thought 80MW (approx 45,000 homes) was a bit overkill – perhaps not though.

    I can see some of the arguments against Hydro – generally speaking though I wouldn’t sympathise much with NIMBY/BANANA crowd.
    I definitely have no sympathy for wind NIMBYs – I can see a major wind development outside my window and just see it as a trade-off for living in a modern society.

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  14. RRM (9,919 comments) says:

    Try telling them they can’t cook their whitebait, because the power’s off tonight…

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  15. Pete George (23,561 comments) says:

    I wouldn’t sympathise much with NIMBY/BANANA crowd.

    Have you ever had your back yard flooded?

    Are they just planning on flooding the valley and leaving a mess of a shoreline like Monowai? A lake full of tree booby traps is not much of an asset beyond the reservoir capability.

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  16. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Jag –
    I am aware of the politics involved with the Solid Energy scheme. I won’t be taking sides, although I do hope one of the schemes will go ahead. The point I was trying to make is that there is an alternative to Mokihinui already on the table.

    Try telling them they can’t cook their whitebait, because the power’s off tonight…

    Not a problem. Many homes in Westport have a coal range with a wetback. Coasters are probably one of the groups who could cope well without electricity. Besides which, we’ve answered David’s challenge of an alternative West Coast power station.

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  17. Nigel (514 comments) says:

    RRM, down there they have this wonderful invention called a BBQ, so whitebait fritters are never an issue.

    It seems there is an element of Electricity company competition going on here, now if the power is needed for the West Coast that’s one thing, but it doesn’t look that way at all, to dam a quality Whitebait & fishing river when you don’t need to is madness.

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  18. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    Is Lake Karapiro an environmental asset or a blight?
    the West Coast is short of lakes and there is no reason a dam should interfere with white baiting. In fact it makes the river less prone to low summer drought flows.

    I understand the lake will be long and narrow – no more than 500 m at its widest point. That is ideal for recreational use.

    Don’t people count for anything anymore?

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  19. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Buller still has the highest power prices in the country

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  20. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    Pete, I’m not sure it’s anyone’s “backyard.”

    If you don’t agree with hydro, explain what you’d rather have. Options are:
    – wind + fossil (and higher price)
    – solar + fossil (and higher price)
    – nuclear
    – hydro
    – no growth in energy supply

    Pick one and discuss pros and cons.

    My view is that hydro is a reasonable choice. It has cons, as do all the above, but hydro is one of NZs biggest natural resources. We complain that Aussies are getting rich by using their natural resources, and then we refuse to use one of our biggest resources. How many people actually visit this valley each year? Are there other similar valleys? Are we complaining about a valley that 20 people a year visit?

    My preference would be nuclear, it is far and away the most dense power available, with the lowest environmental footprint. Unfortunately it is politically unpalatable in NZ, and that won’t change for 20 years. We need something in the mean-time.

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  21. Blue Coast (165 comments) says:

    As a Coaster and whitebaiter I don’t see a problem. The dam is well up stream and all the swamps used by the whitebait for laying eggs will be below the dam.

    Sorry guys but unless they cut the water fully off then as far as whitebait is concerned it is business as usual.

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  22. jag (52 comments) says:

    @ Pete

    I said that I do understand the arguments against Hydro and was trying to impart that I do sympathise in this instance. I think that there are perhaps other renewable alternatives – although I have to admit to not knowing a hell of a lot about this particular case.

    Generally speaking though I don’t have any time for NIMBYs, BANANAs and particularly the associated rent-an-outrage mob.

    Especially given the fact that those who obstruct renewable developments are usually those at the forefront of the climate change debate…. perhaps all it demonstrates is the wider agenda(s) of these people – anti-development, anti-capitalism etc etc

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  23. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Is Lake Karapiro an environmental asset or a blight?
    the West Coast is short of lakes and there is no reason a dam should interfere with white baiting. In fact it makes the river less prone to low summer drought flows.

    Who says the West Coast is short of lakes? The dam WILL interfere with whitebaiting – whitebait are heading upstream to their breeding grounds, and if there’s an 80m high dam in the way, they sure as hell won’t make it

    I understand the lake will be long and narrow – no more than 500 m at its widest point. That is ideal for recreational use.

    That’s because it’s flooding a gorge.

    Don’t people count for anything anymore?

    What about the people who already use the river for kayaking, rafting and fishing?

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  24. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    How many people actually visit this valley each year? Are there other similar valleys? Are we complaining about a valley that 20 people a year visit?

    No, we’re complaining about a valley that on any given day will attract hundreds of people. There’s even a conference centre and lodge up there (called rough and tumble).

    Yes, Australia are using their resources to make money. The difference is, their resources are generally in areas that people don’t visit, and are on aird farmland or desert.

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  25. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    gazzmaniac – everything’s a tradeoff. Nothing comes for free. If we want power, we have an impact. Giving 40,000 households power might be fine if the tradeoff is 20 people can’t kayak. If there are 40,000 people kayaking and 20 people getting power, then that’s not such a good idea. If your principle is that nobody anywhere can be impacted, we may as well give up already, there are no power projects that meet that standard.

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  26. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    PaulL – I agree with you that everything’s a tradeoff and if we want electricity etc.
    If you read any of my other posts from the past, you’ll know that I’m pro progress and I don’t usually disagree with industry using resources. In this case, it’s not 20 people who won’t be able to kayak, it’s more like 20-30 regular users that won’t be able to and many hundreds more that might visit it once or twice a year. On top of that, there are several whitebaiters who use the river during the season, anglers, and hunters.
    My principle is that people will get impacted by industry – but in this case, leave it alone. There are other options, the Stockton Plateau scheme is arguably better as it will also provide a profitable solution to the acid mine drainage problem associated with past mining.

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  27. Pete George (23,561 comments) says:

    Owen: I understand the lake will be long and narrow – no more than 500 m at its widest point. That is ideal for recreational use.

    Not if they don’t clear all the trees from the new shoreline first.

    Check out the lower photo here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Monowai

    That’s after nearly a century.

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  28. helmet (807 comments) says:

    “don’t people count for anything any more?”

    Ummm, what about those people who currently use the gorge for recreation?
    This dam is a big deal. It’s going to flood a huge area of old-growth native bush and destroy the utility and special character of a wild, beautiful river. The resulting long narrow hydro lake is not really anything special or unique in my opinion, and a poor trade for the stunning Mokihinui gorge.

    Imagine the fuss if a timber company applied for consent to log 330ha of native bush nowadays. It’s just not worth it. And let’s please drop the charade that the Coast needs the dam to meet its own power requirements. There’s just no truth to that statement at all.

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  29. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    How much space does one cooling tower take up compared to the what 5,000 windmills you’d need to even get close?

    If the greenies hate electricity so much they should turn off their computers and spare us their nappy wetting tantrums. I’m getting tired of the media telling me that the greens are “furious” about something. If they wanted to count they should have gotten elected but they couldn’t win a single seat and are a minor opposition party.

    Thurrrrrpppt!

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  30. Pete George (23,561 comments) says:

    Hydroelectric power’s dirty secret revealed

    Hydroelectric dams produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, and in some cases produce more of these greenhouse gases than power plants running on fossil fuels. Carbon emissions vary from dam to dam, says Philip Fearnside from Brazil’s National Institute for Research in the Amazon in Manaus. “But we do know that there are enough emissions to worry about.”

    In a study Fearnside estimates that in 1990 the greenhouse effect of emissions from the Curuá-Una dam in Pará, Brazil, was more than three-and-a-half times what would have been produced by generating the same amount of electricity from oil.

    This is because large amounts of carbon tied up in trees and other plants are released when the reservoir is initially flooded and the plants rot. Then after this first pulse of decay, plant matter settling on the reservoir’s bottom decomposes without oxygen, resulting in a build-up of dissolved methane. This is released into the atmosphere when water passes through the dam’s turbines.

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  31. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    If the Stocktown scheme is better and same size, then I’m all for that. Realistically we’ll probably end up needing both. And no, this isn’t about west coast power, it’s about NZ power. There’s a reason it’s called a national grid.

    Maybe we need to have a proper national discussion about this, with select committee hearings, public consultation, the whole nine yards. And we need both nuclear and hydro to be included in that debate. We should have a national power policy that says what we will or won’t permit, and we need people to be trading off the specific options that are viable, not just voting against every option. I think if we did that, we’d all agree to nuclear, but you never can tell.

    My ideal process would have a decent discussion beforehand, then a series of “bundles” that were formed. Each would provide xyz MW of power, or power equivalents (saved power through efficiency measures). Each would have a cost (and therefore electricity cost), and an environmental impact. People would then be asked to vote for one of those packages – there’s no option to vote for “no power”. At that point, we’d get some decent information about what the general population will and won’t accept. I’d much rather live with a couple of large nuclear power plants than dam about 30 rivers, or cover 15% of our countryside with windmills + build 10 new gas fired power plants. And I think that is the real maths here.

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  32. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    PaulL –
    I’m all for the electricity being generated where it’s being used. I do think that a big nuke built in Auckland would be preferrable to new powerlines through the Waikato and the subsequent new power stations further south. It is possible to build safe nuclear reactors, the technology has advanced since the 1970s when the last ones were built in the West.

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  33. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    Dam the Dam cried the Greenies as power prices flew into the sky….

    Well I tried to make something from the song..

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  34. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Heh I’m picking Keisha Castle Hughes and Lucy Lawless to do the remake…

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  35. Pete George (23,561 comments) says:

    I tend towards the nuclear option in the north too – but that is likely to really get the NIMBYs going.

    What is the cost comparison for modern nuclear?

    Dams destroy for a long time. A nuclear accident will blow away relatively quickly – and we rarely get wind from that direction :)

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  36. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    If people are really worried about nukes, they could always build the reactors underground

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  37. Grizz (605 comments) says:

    More rain falls on the West Coast side of the Southern Alps than the East Coast. There are literally hundreds of rivers to go kyaking and Whitebaiting. If only one was off limits, then what difference will it make. Really. There are many alternatives. It is not like they are trying to dam the only river in the province. Most people would never have known about this river until someone wanted to put a hydro dam on it.

    Other schemes avaliable, like Arnold and Stockton mines. Well electricity fuels industry. If it is clean, even better. Think of the industry that could develop around a reliable electricity supply. No longer would the West Coast be the laughing stock of the nation.

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  38. Bevan (3,924 comments) says:

    Above the dam, you destroy a fishery and a recreation area.

    Really???? Will the fish and people be banned from the lake when its full?

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  39. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    More efficient close to user – yes. But not essential that it be that way.

    Nuclear depends a lot on the costs you load on. If you consider just building the plant, fuelling it, and running it, then very cost competitive. If you include resource consents, outlandish demands from greenies for excessive safety, and requirements to dispose of fuel in a way that is safer than the uranium was before we dug it out of the ground……then not so cost effective.

    It’s actually similar for hydro. If you just include the cost of building and operating the dam, pretty cheap. If you include the opportunity costs of the river being dammed – lost tourism, lost amenity values, and include carbon emissions from dead trees etc etc, suddenly not so economic.

    As for wind, if you get keen you can include the costs to extend the electricity grid to all sorts of out of the way places, and flash controlling technology to deal with the load fluctuations. And even before you did that wind wasn’t really economic without subsidies.

    Put a carbon charge on the fossil fuels, and probably no power plants are ‘economic’. But somehow we still build them and buy the power. Go figure.

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  40. WTM (23 comments) says:

    Having worked in the energy industry for a decase, I was once party to an interesting discussion with Steven Barrett (Contact’s Ceo for several years) who had previously worked in nuclear power in his country of origin the US.

    When asked by a staff member regarding the nuclear option, he responded that it is not an option for New Zealand two specific reasons.

    1) It’s a political non-starter… (and illegal)

    2) it’s not technically feasible for the New Zealand (which admittedly left most of us a tad surprised), at least not with current nuclear technology.

    Essentially the issue is that efficient (i.e. cheap electricity) nuclear power plants have two features which make them not an option for NZ.
    – They generate a lot of power (and by a lot I mean they make any of existing power plants look silly)
    – They run within a narrow range of ouptut (they can not be adjusted to match demand, as a hydro can)

    In countries like the US/EU where demand for electricity is extreme, these nuclear plants are used to supply the “base load” i.e. the power used at all points of the day, with thermal and renewable generation providing the extra generation to cope with peak demand.

    In New Zealand with our low population, our “base load” is too low to provide the sufficient demand for a nuclear plant, let alone the issue that even if we had the population required the network would struggle to support such a significant plant, and the tranfer of it’s generation.

    … and no, excess power generated can not be stored in batteries or capacitors.

    There is engineers working around the world to produce small nuclear generators that will be efficient for energy generation (the ones in US ships are not efficient enough), and maybe we will have political will and technical capability at some point in the future, but it’s not today or in the next few years.

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  41. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Most people would never have known about this river until someone wanted to put a hydro dam on it.

    Correction: Most people outside the Buller district.

    The West Coast isn’t the laughing stock of the nation – that title is reserved for Wellington. It’s a great place to live and to go on holiday. The people from the rest of the country who mock the place don’t know what they’re missing. Five minutes from Westport town centre and you’re in one of the best brown trout fishing rivers in the country.

    Yes, more rain falls on the Western side of the alps than the east. The problem we have is that the catchments are generally a lot smaller than on the Eastern side, and the distance to market is also a lot longer. Those are the traditional reasons for no generation on the coast. The smaller catchments mean that there can’t be really big power schemes on the coast, so each station has to be totally independant which increases costs. Contrast that to the Waikato and Tongariro, where there are over 15 stations that are operated to complement each other.

    Yes there are definitely other options available for hydroelectric schemes (one of which will solve a major environmental problem and create a fishery) – why don’t people look at those other alternatives instead of demanding this one? Usually there is a big uproar about a project happening and there is no alternative; that is not the case here. The Stockton Plateau is fucked anyway and nobody uses it aside from for mining, the Ngakawau river is also fucked and can only get better, so why not make it better and make money at the same time? It sure beats the hell out of wrecking a river that people actually use.

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  42. Pete George (23,561 comments) says:

    Thanks WTM, good to have an insight into the nuclear (non) option.

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  43. Waymad (136 comments) says:

    Oh, I can think of a few West Coast sawmills which will be even now brushing up their timber purchase templates, in anticipation of harvesting those old-growth trees.

    Waste not, want not. Big market for native timber, and great prices. Ask any private landholder with a few bush gullies well away from main roads…

    And as for a new small lake, well, that old tart Gaia made one a few centuries back – Lake Minchin.

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  44. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Really???? Will the fish and people be banned from the lake when its full?

    The recreation area will be flooded by 80m of water.

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  45. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    BlairM 9:25 am,

    Can we get rid of this stupid Nuclear Free bullshit now, and just build some freaking power stations? The eyesore of a couple of cooling towers is not going to blight the scenery as much as flooding an entire valley will.

    Exactly right.
    As Blair and others have highlighted; we need to get over our anti nuclear energy stance.

    I put forward the following scenario:
    Imagine a New Zealand with a 10 million population and industries of twice what we have today. This would result in twice the energy requirements we have currently; and assuming we maintain the same ratios of existing means by which we generate power, this would translate into needing twice the number of hydro dams as exist now.
    The question is; where are these additional dams to go?

    This is the scenario we will face if we don’t consider going nuclear. Wind and tidal generation just ain’t going to cut it.
    Are there realistically any OTHER alternatives to nuclear power generation?

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  46. jag (52 comments) says:

    Pete, the reasons provided by WTM aren’t exactly those that the demagogues would have us believe.
    Sounds to me, from the tone of your post Pete, as if you didn’t really need any rational to rule out nuclear power as an option anyway.

    In summary, if small efficient nuclear plants were to become available (which is more than likely at some point), the only hindrance to nuclear power (not to be confused with weaponry) is our baseless nonsensical law.

    If small efficient plants were available I still don’t think that demagogues would afford the time of day to rational debate on the use of nuclear power. Facts don’t seem to hold water when you’re so blinded by ideology.

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  47. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    WTM: not sure I agree. Not so much with the premise that Barrett knows what he’s talking about – he does. But with some of the underlying assumptions he’s made.

    1. NZ doesn’t have enough baseload power requirement to justify a large nuclear plant or two. These things start at around 1 GW and go up, true. NZ has some 20-30 GW of capacity, so a few more isn’t that big a deal.

    2. NZ currently uses hydro for most of our baseload. We could easily use nuclear instead, and treat hydro as our peaking capacity – a lot of other countries use hydro primarily for peaking.

    3. We’re assuming we only have our current industry. What if we put in the nuclear plant(s), and associated with it asked ourselves “what energy hungry industry could we connect up if we knew we had exceptionally cheap power for 8 hours of the day”. Ask that question and people will give you answers – from charging car batteries if we ever go to electric cars, to making hydrogen if we ever go to a hydrogen storage economy, to making aluminium (which is basically just crystallised electricity so far as I can tell).

    4. Networks can be changed. If it were in the northern part of the north island, we need a fair bit of network change up there anyway. Include it in the cost

    5. They are getting smaller and still efficient. I think I worked out a couple years ago that around 500MW is the minimum for a “unit”, and you need 3-4 units in a plant so as to make things efficient. Means you can take the units offline one at a time for maintenance, and still supply 75% of your usual output.

    I agree there are challenges, but all our power options have challenges. The largest one is political, not technical. My view is that largely that’s because we’re not forcing people to make choices, we’re just letting them object to each option without offering anything as an alternative. Wind has major issues with political acceptability, and frankly isn’t as good anyway. Fossil fuels have the carbon scare. Hydro means you have to pick rivers one by one and dam them – and some people consider that to mean ruining them. Tidal means massive change to our coastline. Solar we don’t have enough sunlight for, and even if we did, we’d have to cover a decent chunk of the country. There are no easy options, I continue to believe that nuclear is actually the easiest.

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  48. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    PaulL – if what you’re saying is correct, then one small nuclear unit will be the equivalent of 6 Mokihinui Dams. Why not just build one station and not have to worry about electricity supply for the next ten years?
    And yes, it is a great idea to let the existing hydro stations be peak stations – I was under the impression that was the case with some of them anyway

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  49. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    Kris K – why would we want 10 million people? The number we have is just fine with me, but the number we have will use more energy per head than in the future. Ideally, that more energy will be:
    – low pollution, however we choose to define pollution (potentially including carbon emissions)
    – avoid breaking the best bits of NZ (so not ruin our tourism and our visual environment)
    – cheap
    – reliable

    Solar and wind aren’t cheap or reliable, and require land area. Hydro at the scale we’d need would require damming a lot more of NZ, I personally would rather not do that. I don’t mind a few more, but not every possible viable site – there’d be no rivers left. Fossil fuel requires large scale mining (coal), and is using a resource that I think will have higher value uses in the future – even leaving aside the carbon question. Hydro isn’t available on the scale we need. Nuclear is the only realistic option, we need to realise that and start working out how, instead of talking about if.

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  50. WTM (23 comments) says:

    Just so it’s clear… I’m personally in favour of nuclear power plants in the future, once it is a technically feasible option.

    The simple reality is the electricity generation is NEVER green, every form of generation has some impact on the environment, even the “environmentally friendly” options all result in the release of a significant quanitity of co2 into the environmet, as they all require substantial quantities of concrete which the production of results in vast production of CO2.

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  51. jinpy (226 comments) says:

    Some good comments here. I think nuclear should be considerd as an option although you do have to deal with nuclear waste (either output or input with depleted uranium) and the tiny but real enough possibility of a long-term environmental disaster in a small, relatively pristine country.

    What I haven’t seen in any of the discussion is energy conservation towards the future. For example, why don’t computer manufacturers come up with systems that automatically shut-down computers at night while allowing switch on for patches/updates and automatic backups. We could spend money on a new power scheme, which we will eventually need, but we could also spend money on better insulation, double-glazing, better water tanks, transmission technology. What is happening with smart metering, or the turning on/off of water heating?

    I acknowledge that energy demand means at some time we will need more power stations but there doesn’t seem to be any effort to come up with alternative solutions. I suppose it is inevitable that NZ will become so developed that wilderness doesn’t really exist anymore (like Asia), but I’m allowed to despair at that nonetheless.

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  52. WTM (23 comments) says:

    Paul The problem is seperated ownership…

    The national grid is owned by one company, so thc cost of the network upgrade couldn’t be included in the cost of the powerplant, and have you seen the grief Transpower has trying to run some new lines through the waikato? Imagine what it would be like doing that for the entire country.

    Currently base load is typically offered into the market at (or near to) 0c this insures it is entirely absorbed by the market engine. With the price paid to the generator defined as the market clearing price.

    In NZ Baseload is typically a mix of thermal and hydro. This is because a number of dams, are “run of river”, i.e. they are not allowed to store water, so it’s a case of use it or lose.

    This base load generation provides the market participants with a stable income, in the event 4/5 of the main five lost this stable income (because the fifth was providing it through nuclear generation), they would sustain a substantial loss in wholesale income.

    Now admittedly most of us aren’t going to cry for these companies, but I’m not sure we will like the repecussions.

    Currently most participants operate what is referred to as a “retail hedge”, i.e. if you check the proportion of each companies generation of a national total, and compare that to their retail share, you will see a correlation.

    This is a risk mitigation for years where wholesale prices spike either up or down (as all generation is cleared through the market), i.e. it doesn’t matter if you are paying $1000 mwh, if you get $100 mwh from your retail custoemrs, as you get $900 mwh for every mwh you generate and sell onto the market. In other words produce 100, sell 100 , buy 100, and the price doesn’t impact on your retail customers.

    Now consider the situation that as retailer you no longer can guarantee that protection of a retail hedge. You now need o manage a lot more risk… Options are
    – get out of retail, or reduce exposure, (reduction in market competition)
    – move to smart meters, and charge usage based on price per trading period (imagine finding out it’s gonig to cost $10 to boil a jug at night for a cup of tea)
    – Increase prices outright to cover risk, and stick with the current profile metering solution.

    As I said, my comments before were an “extremely” summarised version…

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  53. Waymad (136 comments) says:

    And y’all will be pleased to know that nuclear has the backing of the Original Whole Earth Catalog guy – Stewart Brand. His take: concentrate all the issues in one physically small nuclear plant, rather than attempt to deal with a million smokestacks, or a hundred dams.

    The money shot from the Grauniad review:

    More people in cities, lots of nuclear power stations and lashings of GM crops, urges Stewart Brand.

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  54. WTM (23 comments) says:

    PS sorry for the wall of text, and all the spelling errors, I didn’t have enough time to edit them after I posted.

    The short version is that the New Zealand electricity market is carefully balanced, with multiple participants…

    Introduction of a nuclear plant by one participant would well and truly tip over the apple cart… and we could all find ourselves paying a lot more for apples.

    Ironically, if we had never split the market up, this wouldnt’ be an issue, as there would only be one company…. i.e. ECNZ

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  55. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    PaulL 11:43 am,

    I think we’re in agreement – nuclear is the only feasible option for meeting our future increasing energy demands – as I highlighted in my 11:31 am comment.

    I was trying to highlight with my ’10 million population’ and ‘double industry size’ that if most things remained the same proportionally regarding energy generation methods, then we would require about twice the hydro dams as we currently have, and thus have the problem of where exactly these could be situated.

    Like you, I believe the existing, and suggested additional methods (tidal, wind, solar, et al), are inadequate to meet our future needs; whereas utilising nuclear for baseload and hydro to complement would work very nicely.

    And by the way, the 10 million population was more to make the point, rather than the population I would like to see NZ grow to.

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  56. RRM (9,919 comments) says:

    But really, a whole lot of armchair political pundits waxing lyrical about how much electricity generation they “believe” will be required X years in the future, and what sources they “believe” it will all come from, is rather futile and masturbatory isn’t it don’t you think?

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  57. wreck1080 (3,912 comments) says:

    PaulL is correct – if we had more power we would find a use for it.

    eg, look at iceland – they produce aluminium. The main cost for making aluminium is power. We could make a new aluminium smelter, import bauxite from aussie and produce aluminium.

    What about NZ steel? Sure they could consume more power.

    Modern nuclear power plants are self dampening – the number of deaths operating nuclear power is lower than other sources such as coal. The scary aspect of nuclear , is the waste, which is hazardous for thousands of years. My theory is that the boffins will find a way to neutralise waste sometime in the future.

    Another great opportunity for NZ, is to host the worlds data centers. These computing behemoths consume vast amounts of power – we could do quite nicely thanks very much.

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  58. green (5 comments) says:

    there are 3 proposed hydro schemes – 2 by SOEs (solid energy and meridian energy) and one by small independent west coast company Hydro Developments Limited.

    Solid Energy Appeals Consents For The Stockton Plateau Hydro Scheme http://www.voxy.co.nz/national/solid-energy-appeals-consents-stockton-plateau-hydro-scheme/5/37658

    Even Forest and Bird supports the HDL one, where as even Peter Dunne is opposed to Meridian’s gigantic Mokihinui Dam proposal.

    The Conservation Minister needs to sign off the Mokihinui Dam for it to get government approal, and it may go to court.

    ‘I’ve don’t know enough about Mokihinui to say whether the Commissioners made the right decision or not. But my challange to those who say it should not go ahead, is to specify an alternate location on the West Coast for a new power station.’

    My suggested alternative if the Ngawakau River, down from the Stockton Mine: http://www.hydrodevelopments.co.nz

    ‘Commissioners approved Hydro Developments (HDL) Stockton Plateau hydro project on Tuesday.’ Project manager John Easther said HDL needed to be granted land access by Solid Energy and it was possible the two companies could work together on the project. HDL had approached Solid Energy as a potential investor in light of the benefits it would gain from the project, Easther said.

    The commissioners said the scheme would reduce pollution in the Ngakawau, cut power costs to people in the area and that most of the HDL consents would not adversely affect the mine.’

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  59. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    “Especially given the fact that those who obstruct renewable developments are usually those at the forefront of the climate change debate”

    Bull crap!, the number of Kiwi’s who actually like our natural heritage is not limited to the radical elements of the green movement.
    I like hydro, I think it should be our primary generator, but damming one of the remaining top 10 river ecosystems in the country is not the best place for it. There are other less destructive alternatives that should be built before this one, the country has been wrecked enough.

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  60. green (5 comments) says:

    Even the green party supports the HDL hydro scheme:
    http://www.greens.org.nz/submissions/west-coast-branch-submission-stockton-hydro ‘The West Coast branch of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand submits in SUPPORT of Hydro Development Ltd’s (HDL) proposed hydro scheme on the Stockton Plateau (Stockton Hydro).’

    As does the West Coast MP – Chris Auchinvole and the West Coast council.

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  61. green (5 comments) says:

    Personally I am in favour of micro hydro – not giant schemes such as the Mokihinui

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  62. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    “No longer would the West Coast be the laughing stock of the nation.”

    The only people laughing harder are all the Coasters who know what a paradise it is down here!
    Laugh it up I say, just make sure you tell as many people as you can, it will ensure we get at least a few more years of freedom from the crap going on everywhere else.

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  63. Pete George (23,561 comments) says:

    “No longer would the West Coast be the laughing stock of the nation.”

    Does anyone think that? What is there to laugh at? It is a unique part of the country, it may be like a step into the past, or sometimes a step into the deluge, but it has some great places to visit and a special charm.

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  64. RRM (9,919 comments) says:

    [Shunda Barunda]: Bull crap!, the number of Kiwi’s who actually like our natural heritage is not limited to the radical elements of the green movement.

    I like hydro, I think it should be our primary generator, but damming one of the remaining top 10 river ecosystems in the country is not the best place for it. There are other less destructive alternatives that should be built before this one, the country has been wrecked enough.

    [/quote]

    ^^^ I don’t normally agree with much that Shunter says, but those two comments right there are SPOT ON.

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  65. green (5 comments) says:

    I would say micro hydro, micro wind, tidal, geothermal and wave energy + solar could pretty much cover it – rather than building more Huntly Power Stations.

    Why does NZ not invest in clean renewable energy in appropriate areas.

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  66. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    WTM
    Your analysis was correct up until several years ago but is no longer true.
    Pebble bed reactors are efficient at much lower generating capacity and the new nuclear batteries coming on stream can provide a small town of 20,000 homes with competitive power.
    The power at the “battery” may be a bit more expensive but the savings in transmission lines and losses make up for it.
    They have no moving parts and are delivered on a truck and dumped into a hole with about the surface area of a large spa pool.
    Every several years they are lifted out and returned to the factory to be refuelled.

    OF course if we begin to seriously electrify the motor vehicle fleet then the increased power demand will be substantial and nuclear plants can then supply the base load and hydro and gas fired plants the variable loads.
    There has to be a reason the French generate 80% of their electricity with nuclear power. Its because they sell so much of their surplus to their “renewable” energy neighbours such as Denmark and Germany.

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  67. bruceh (102 comments) says:

    Waymad’s links posted at 9.32am show the way to go for a good proportion of energy needs.

    The argument that large, conventional nuke power plants are just way too big for NZ needs is outdated by super compact super safe mini-nuke designs that reduce demand on major grid re-investment.

    Once the trade-offs are put to the public in the type of national debate PaulL suggests, the anti-nuke sentiment will start to erode and its time will come within a couple of decades

    Of course once we understand Pres Obama’s enthusiasm for a nuke energy future we may want some mini-nukes straight away and get back to the white baiting without further distraction

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  68. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    You can’t argue that the footprint of a mini nuke is much less than a dam, and it a few could safely be built in the centre of a city. Then the people of the West Coast could be left alone.

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  69. WTM (23 comments) says:

    Owen

    That’s very interesting, and in fact that was some of the tech in development that was being referrred to at the time of the conversation (about 4-6 years ago). Since then I moved out of the “business” proper and on to the support side (i.e. IT).

    Here’s hoping the politically motivated illegality of nuclear can be addressed soon, but I have a horrible feeling that even if it was legal, the nimby factor would be difficult to ignore.

    People get upset by pylons (Waikato) or windmills (Makara) near their houses now… can you imagine their reaction when they get told “oh by the way, we’re just putting a nuclear reactor down the road from your house?”.

    One thing the industry (and specifically energy retail) taught me is to never underestimate the average Kiwi’s paranoia and stupidity…

    IMHO the best mix for NZ would be nuclear for base load (based near main cities), and geothermal for peak demand.

    Get rid of the hydro, wind, and thermal, all ugly, poluting, and enviromentally negative options.

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  70. grumpy (260 comments) says:

    I love the Mohikinui, I have wal;ked every inch of it over the last 35 years. The bit that is going to be flooded is all vertical gorge with very limited vegetation and wildlife. The real valuable parts (the North and Sout Branches) are not affected.

    The scientists have told us whitbait will not be affected and given my lack of fitness in my old age, being able to take the dinghy up to the Rough and Tumble and Specimen’s Creeks would be like going back to my youth – I can’t wait.

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  71. Pete George (23,561 comments) says:

    IMHO the best mix for NZ would be nuclear for base load (based near main cities), and geothermal for peak demand.

    Get rid of the hydro, wind, and thermal, all ugly, polluting, and environmentally negative options.

    I agree with that WTM, except that they have already stuffed a lot of land with damn lakes, they might as well continue to use existing hydro.

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  72. gravedodger (1,566 comments) says:

    I wonder if now is the time to find and designate some sights for possible future Nuclear development as I can think of some areas with low level potential for NIMBY opposition and just giving a designation will give a good lead time for NIMBYS to make their move, hopefully out of the bleeding way.

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  73. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    What about Mt Albert? National will never win it anyway.

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  74. adrianb (30 comments) says:

    So, we now learn that Meridian simply bribed the local Iwi to give their consent. Kaitiakitanga, my ass. Another reason to hold our current, race-based politics in contempt. From the ODT:

    Meridian said today it had made a payment so Ngati Waewae could “fund other cultural initiatives”.

    “They (Ngati Waewae) did a lot of work for us in assessing the cultural impact of the project,” spokesman Alan Seay said. “The cultural project we are funding is to offset the impact of the project on the mauri (life force) of the river.”

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  75. molyneux rush (1 comment) says:

    It’s alarming to realize that so many New Zealanders are uninformed on this issue. Some facts are urgently needed:

    MYTH: Hydro-dams are clean and green, with low emissions.
    FACT: When the “full life cost” is included (dam construction) the carbon footprint of a dam is 2-6 times higher than that of a wind-farm. (Comparison of Life Cycle Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Embodied Energy in Four Renewable Electricity Generation Technologies in New Zealand, 2009) (Carbon Footprint of Electricity Generation, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2006)

    MYTH: Dams are permanent.
    FACT: Large dams (10+MW) have a design life of 80-100yrs, but a dam’s life is usually shortened by reservoir siltation (i.e. Roxburgh dam). NZ has many aging dams close to retirement age that will need to be decommissioned at a minimum cost of 35-150% of new dam construction. (Reversibility of Renewable Power, SPX Consultants NZ Limited, 2008.) Power companies and consenting authorities ALL conveniently ignore the future costs of dam decommissioning, despite the RMA’s provision for intergenerational bonds (Section 108A).

    MYTH: Hydro-dams provide storage.
    FACT: Almost all NZ hydro-dams, although built as large storage-type dams, are operated as “run-of-the-river” dams, meaning that the water that flows into a reservoir is the water that flows out producing electricity. Dammed lakes (real lakes) can provide some storage, but hydro-dam reservoirs for “run-of-the-river” dams can only provide a few days storage at best. Real hydro-dam storage reservoirs are VERY ugly, and not recreation-friendly.

    MYTH: Hydro power is reliable despite the occasional “dry year”.
    FACT: NIWA states climate change will “introduce big changes in the seasonality of hydro storage, because it will change the accumulation and melt of snow in the Southern Alps.” “Long-term variability in lake inflows and rainfall is related to alternating phases of the IPO, a recently identified large-scale pattern of climate variation that affects the whole Pacific basin. The IPO may be changing phase again, back to the pattern observed before 1977. If this occurs, low inflow periods for South Island lakes will be more frequent (and possibly more severe) over the next 20-30 years than was the case during 1977-98. This would pose a significant risk for the security of electricity supply.”

    MYTH: When a hydro-dam forms a reservoir, the downstream river remains the same.
    FACT: The downstream river is starved of silts and nutrients, daily flow-ramping scours and erodes the banks, the water temperature fluctuates, and the river ecosystem always degrades.

    MYTH: The recreational value of a hydro-dam reservoir offsets the loss of a river.
    FACT: Free-flowing rivers provide many more recreational opportunities than hydro-reservoirs, and a wild river is more attractive to most users, tourists etc.

    MYTH: Power prices are high because we haven’t got enough generation.
    FACT: They are high because the power companies know how to exploit the system for profit.

    MYTH: Building more dams will lessen price rises or even reduce power prices.
    FACT: Soaring power prices cannot be addressed by building new generation, because as history shows, the consumer funds this additional generation through higher power prices, which in turn drive hyper-inflation unless the unit price of electricity can be subsidised by industrial consumers.

    MYTH: We are using more power so we need more dams.
    FACT: More dams are not the solution. We have almost used up our hydro potential already. If all demand growth was met by our remaining hydro it would only buy us 10 years of generation. (Ministry of Economic Development figures: Growth between 2002-6 at 848GWh per year. Potential hydro 8870 GWh)

    MYTH: Hydro-dams are the best generation solution:
    FACT: There are enough non-hydro options that are economically viable and consentable (Electricity Commission, Generation Update April 2010). NZ’s largest new renewable option is Neptune Power’s Cook Strait tidal power development with 17000 MW potential (much more than NZ needs).

    MYTH: Saving electricity doesn’t amount to much.
    FACT: Energy efficient measures are the first and best option. Potential cost-effective savings are approx. 6400GWh per year, equivalent to 20 Mokihinui dams. Peak demand savings are approx. 1.740MW. Net benefits estimated at 4 times cost. (Electricity Efficiency Potentials Study, Electricity Commission, 2005)

    MYTH: Hydro-dams benefit local communities.
    FACT: Most construction labour is not local. The mini boom of the construction period ends with a post-construction vacuum and services decline. Dams only need a few personnel, so ongoing employment is negligible. Landscape values are submerged/altered, so local communities lose opportunities based on natural assets (tourism, horticulture, viticulture etc) all of which is undervalued by the power company keen to dam a river for profit.

    MYTH: We need the power companies.
    FACT: Energy technologies are quickly moving toward distributed renewable energies. In the next decade we will see ever-more smart appliances, smart meters, the smart grid, and then the rise of gridless energy systems like Solid Oxide Fuel Cells that you can buy (US$3,000) to power your house and recharge your car. Say good-bye to price-gouging power companies and outdated 20th Century hydro-dams.

    MYTH: Damming a river, or a hundred rivers, has little impact on people, just fish and whitewater enthusiasts.
    FACT: When a river catchment is dammed it becomes dysfunctional. We ALL live in a catchment. Healthy waterways provide clean water, which sustain healthy ecosystems and people. The water cycle IS the life cycle.

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  76. allanm (1 comment) says:

    That seems to have covered most matters; so what if the locals said to the suppliers, build us a small-scale power generator without building a dam. You can duct water from the rivers as they did to run the pelton wheels at the gold plants, and generate where the people live. You can also use wind and solar and feed any excess back into the grid. This would give the designers something to get their teeth into until we resolve the nuclear issue. Keep it small and keep it local. Use our imagination. Small IS beautiful.

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