Last week, Eloise Gibson in the Herald wrote about the sometimes tough choice between renewable generation and other environmental concerns; and on the same day The Press editorial made a strong call on the matter – that “Unique landscapes should always come first ahead of desires for more electricity. If we have to turn off lights and heated towel rails to save something special and irreplaceable…then turn off and go without we must”. Strong stuff, suggesting that those in the heartland are now echoing Green thinking.
The Herald and The Press were both talking about wind-farms, but the arguments hold for hydro too. And last week, Contact confirmed its intention to pursue four ressurrected hydro proposals on the Clutha (the river that the Clyde and Roxburgh dams are on). It seems hydro is suddenly economic again – the bluerush is on.
Jeanette Fitzsimons says [RadioNZ podcast] that we don’t need to “go without” as such to avoid sacrificing our rivers, but be smarter in our use. We can use what we have more efficiently, conserve unnecessary energy wastage, reduce the demand by doing commonsense improvements like insulation, industry can make more use of co-generation (e.g. coal mine gas, dairy effluent and woody biomass), and we can also build some new generation from geothermal, wind, some hydro and in the future, wave, tidal, solar….
So the question we should ask is not “do we need power and will a Clutha dam provide it”, but how much new supply do we need, what are the other options, what are the relative environmental impacts of dams and other generation sources (e.g. can we restore the environment if we end up not needing them), are rivers renewable given there are a finite number, and how much value does the public place on our remaining rivers.
It should be remembered that we have already committed a great number of NZ’s rivers to hydro (50-70% of generation comes from hydro), and many more to other landscape modification and water degradation (agriculture, sewage, etc) and at some point we may wish to protect what remains.
Here’s a lovely campaign video of the Clutha to engage the heart as well as the head if you are so inclined.