Cycling to Southland — Epilogue

This is how the story ends.

Yesterday I took apart my bike and crammed it into the small rental car of a friend attending the festival. We drove back to Dunedin airport, where incredibly helpful people gave us materials to pack up the bike. Upon arrival in Wellington, I unpacked it, put it back together (with the assistance of friends I ran into in the baggage claim), and cycled back around the bays. I was slightly surprised and very proud that it worked properly!  A half hour bike ride now seems impossibly short.

The festival itself was a great success. Sunday was a community open day in the town of Mataura, where I (and hopefully quite a few locals) learned a great deal. The star of the weekend was a fifth generation Queensland farmer named Sid Plant, who has direct experience of a mine moving in and destroying a farming community. His community of 64 families has dwindled to 11, as the noise, dust, and other negative impacts of the mine have driven people to sell off and move out. He said the land would take at least a million years to return to its pre-mined state. His story was poignant, and actually brought tears to my eyes as he played a song written about the sad fate of his town Acland.

We are up against something big. The powerful corporate interests that stand to make a lot of money from selling fossil fuels, especially as liquid fuels and fertiliser become more expensive, have money and influence on their side. Local and central government tend to be optimistic and enthusiastic about the potential to increase growth, and reluctant or unable to challenge the proposals. The public are busy trying to make ends meet and raise their families. They usually just want to avoid conflict, and would like to trust in the professional competence of those proposing the mine and/or those charged with regulating activities. Given the financial challenges facing many families, survival of their nearest and dearest is paramount, and they may not feel they have the luxury of protecting an abstract entity called The Environment.

For decades the argument has been that there is a trade-off between prosperity and environmental protection. It was right there in the answers to the poll on the Southland Times website yesterday. It essentially asked: Do you agree with the protestors that coal mining will be bad for the environment, or do you think we should go ahead because it will make us rich? When it is posed as this kind of dichotomy, it is easy for people to believe the Government’s rhetoric about a ‘balanced’ approach — just a little more environmental degradation for a little more economic growth won’t hurt us.

The green paradigm shift is the recognition that we don’t have to trade off our health and well-being for a little more economic growth. All the additional fossil fuels we burn from now on will only make it harder for us to transition to an economy that is not dependent on fossil fuels, and will worsen climate change. We have the opportunity to do things differently, and in a way that benefits us all.

It may not be good for mining companies, who have a mindless and ethic-free imperative to return a profit by doing the same old thing. But companies are not people. The people working for mining companies can do something different, and possibly much more enjoyable. We need government and regulation to step in and create the incentive for new activities that won’t result in catastrophic climate change, that won’t threaten our essential farmland, and that will build up (rather than destroy) our communities.

We must start with education and outreach, listening and learning. The more people involved in the conversation, the more robust our collective decisions about the future of our economy will be. As someone said at a closing meeting of the festival, a tiny flame as been kindled in the community of Mataura. I look forward to watching it grow.

This is how the story begins.

22 Comments Posted

  1. Trevor29 – re. Huntly Power Station re-consenting. In their latest quarterly report Genesis note that six submissions were received by Waikato Regional Council. Only six!

  2. Bernie Napp of Straterra tries to defend lignite mining with more flawed arguments:

    Local Bodies: Bernie Napp Continues Lignite Debate

  3. I fear that you are right. Consenting Huntley has certainly been off the media radar, surprising since Genesis were after 35 year consents. Hopefully the council will oppose any time pressure and give these consents careful thought, and if necessary give a short term extension to any controversial consents so they can take the time they need.


  4. How likely would that be though, Trevor? Ever since I found a report advising the Council’s regulatory committee that both Genesis and the Government wanted the applications processed at a local level (ie. not called in), I’ve suspected all parties just want to get Huntly re-consented as quickly and quietly as possible. With little public input. The Council report I referred to above was dated 8 Nov 2011 and advised Councillors that formal applications had not yet been made by Genesis. Yet submissions closed on the new Huntly resource consents less than six weeks later. And there was a little matter of the election distracting everyone at the time.

  5. Got it – thanks.

    It will be interesting to see whether the Waikato council will require Genesis to actually make the minor modifications required on at least one of their units so that they can actually burn biomass.


    PS: I replied last night but my post never made it. Something significant seems to have happened to frogblog.

  6. Kaukapakapa – do you have a link to that?

    Even if they only did the modifications to one or two of the units and not all four, they could burn biomass for long periods and only burn the coal when they needed to run more of the units to meet high demand.


  7. Trevor29, In response to your last post you might be interested in what Genesis has to say in their recent application for new resource consents for Huntly. When describing Units 1-4 they note that “With minor technological modifications to the boilers and mills, the units are also capable of firing biomass.” Mind you, that was probably only put in there to make those four coal/gas-burning units more “palatable”!

  8. The recent rains have lifted the storage to 2514 GWH but this is still only 79% – the average storage for this time of year increases slowly until March. Hopefully more water will reach the storage lakes.

    If Huntley could burn charcoal, then we could use it to meet dry year generation needs without increasing net CO2 emissions.


  9. The saddest part about Meridian’s decision to pull the plug on Project Hayes may be that they may be more determined to proceed with the hydro dam on the Mohikinui River. They may also push for projects on the lower Waitaki and Waiau Rivers that I am not so keen on.

    If they have other wind projects that they want to proceed with instead or first, then not proceeding with Project Hayes doesn’t worry me.


  10. Lake storage is down to 80% of the average for this time of year (at 2513GWH).

    Significant power is heading South so the generating companies are using North Island thermal to maintain South Island storage to some extent.


  11. A key part of the problem (no pun intended) is the ‘looking over the fence’ phenomenon. NZ’ers see Australians mining the hell out of their land and seemingly getting richer from it … and the NZ’er thinks “I’d like some of that please”.

    To get past this old world economics, we need to encourage renewable development and remove the roadblocks to it. I feel ashamed that Project Hayes has died a death, partly because of the local green voice. Yes, things could have been better with bringing the community along and the greens as a group need to support renewables at every opportunity.

    There might be lignite in them thar hills, but there’s energy in the wind and water and we need to tap into it in a big way.

    Also, great blogging Julie Anne, I’ve enjoyed taking the journey with you.

  12. The trick is to look for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.

    One use of fossil fuels is power generation, which suits renewables very well. However most renewables are available on a use it or lose it basis, which discourages investment in the renewables required to achieve the last 10% or so as those renewables would often be wasted during wet years or periods of low demand. Biomass can fill this need currently being met by coal and gas fired generation.

    Natural gas is currently used for nitrate fertiliser manufacture, starting off with steam reformation into hydrogen. Surplus electricity from renewable generation could be used to manufacture hydrogen for nitrate fertilizer production and reduce our need for fossil natural gas. This would reduce the troughs in the electricity prices and encourage more renewable generation, and the dry year problem can then be solved by simply reducing the amount of hydrogen generated during dry years – a form of demand management.

    We have seen the electricity generators hold back on new renewable generation “because the market conditions are not currently favourable” which means they would rather burn cheap natural gas in their cheap gas-fired generators than pay the interest costs on the new renewable generation. To me, this indicates that the ETS charge on CO2 emissions is too low, and the forecasts for natural gas prices are optimistically low.

    Natural gas and LPG are also used for space heating and water heating. Solar water heating can cut down the amount required. Electricity can also be used, but even when a heat pump is used electricity generated from natural gas is less effective than using the natural gas for direct heating. However institutions that can use natural gas for combined heat and power (CHP) generation are more efficient than either. Of course, using wind or other renewable generation to power a heat pump has no CO2 emissions (or much lower emissions in the case of geothermal generation).

    Transport is the tricky question. However it is better to use CNG or LPG for transport and renewable generation for power and heating than to use the CNG and LPG in fixed applications and try to fuel our vehicles from coal. Even if we do choose to use coal for some transport, the best option might not be a liquification project. Instead running ship’s diesel engines on powdered coal is an option. (One method is to inject into the engine a slurry made from powdered coal and water!)

    There are a number of options. The government is concentrating on the wrong ones.


  13. It is very likely that in future countries will get credits for not exploiting fossil fuels.

    At the moment we have it backwards.

    It is too easy to cheat the system with credits the way they are. It is hard to accurately count emissions, and we are turning forests into liabilities. Making countries pay for bringing fossil fuels to the surface is much more natural than charging for the burning of them.

    In any case the race is on to exploit them before it becomes untenable.

  14. Barry is there really any prospect of exported lignite and other such fuel being counted in the Kyoto process – only domestic consumption is counted now? Is there any prospect that nations that keep coal/fuel/oil/gas in the ground get any credit for this as they would do for retaining forest?

  15. SPC,

    Brownlea and co are fully aware that if we don’t exploit fossil fuels soon, then it will become progressively harder, and they will actually lose value (economic value). They can only deny climate change and pretend that we can carry on as usual for a decade or 2.

    Also there is the possibility of trading a lignite mine off against other carbon sources when trading begins in earnest. To do that they will have to show serious intent. If we are nice and voluntarily cut back emissions then no one will pay us to do the right thing.

  16. Economic growth through mining is not a sustainable addition to the local economy. It’s a boom bust phenomona, that briefly inflates land values for those selling land for workers housing and helps local retailers, with a consequent decline where housing values collapse because of oversupply – attracting either house movers or people looking for affordable accomodation while on welfare support.

    As for the national economy, there is real gain only when the miner is state owned (or high levels of royalties), but of course the longer finite resources remain in the ground the more valuable they become and the more advanced technology for using them without polluting the environment.

    Locally and nationally we are better off keeping the lignite in the ground for some years yet. And focusing on national waterway management (best farm practice and waterway cleanup jobs – ripuarian) and water charging financing better development of our water resources.

  17. All that wasted effort cycling to and from some farm for an extended holiday / talkfest on the taxpayer dime. Not one ounce of productive output.

    Meanwhile the real workers continue mining export dollars.

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