Be­ing green is tough when nu­clear looks NZ’s so­lu­tion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources -

Keith Orchi­son

ON the sur­face, the New Zealan­ders should be in green power heaven— 70 per cent of their power sup­ply al­ready comes from hy­dro-elec­tric sys­tems and they have some of the best re­sources for wind power in the world. A lit­tle deeper, though, and the Ki­wis are less san­guine about life in a car­bon-con­strained world than might be ex­pected.

Hy­dro-elec­tric pro­duc­tion has been stalled for 15 years — not least be­cause of dif­fi­cul­ties with the Maori com­mu­nity over land use — and the re­li­a­bil­ity of ex­ist­ing sup­ply is con­tin­u­ously threat­ened by drought. With cli­mate sci­en­tists threat­en­ing capri­cious rain­fall pat­terns for the fu­ture, the hy­dro op­tion causes more fur­rowed brows than smiles among pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

Hav­ing hy­dro power at hand is very use­ful for wind farm de­vel­op­ment, with the for­mer be­ing able to quickly re­place sup­ply when wind drops. This is how the Danes have been able to build a large wind in­dus­try — they rely on Nor­we­gian hy­dro-elec­tric back-up.

How­ever, ini­tial op­ti­mistic fore­casts of wind de­vel­op­ment in New Zealand have stum­bled over the hur­dle that the best sites do not tend to co­in­cide with hy­dro power avail­abil­ity or de­mand cen­tres — and both the high-volt­age trans­mis­sion busi­ness owned by the Gov­ern­ment and the Elec­tric­ity Com­mis­sion, the in­dus­try reg­u­la­tor, are con­cerned about how much in­ter­mit­tent wind power can be put in to the grid sys­tem with­out cre­at­ing in­sta­bil­ity.

When the hy­dro lim­its first be­came ob­vi­ous in the late 1960s, the New Zealan­ders looked to nu­clear en­ergy. A plan was de­vel­oped to build four 250MW nu­clear re­ac­tors near Auck­land to be op­er­at­ing by 1990. Then a large gas field was dis­cov­ered off­shore, along with coal near the North Is­land’s Waikato River, and the nu­clear project was ditched.

Fast-for­ward to 2008 and the Maui gas field is in sharp de­cline — with other gas re­serves not thought likely to pro­vide ad­e­quate sup­ply be­yond an­other 10 years. And the Huntly coal plant has to run at 30-50 per cent be­low ca­pac­ity on very hot days be­cause it has li­cence prob­lems with heat.

Green­house gas emis­sions also present a prob­lem for a Gov­ern­ment that was quick to rat­ify Ky­oto. There are sub­stan­tial coal de­posits in the South Is­land, but the global warm­ing is­sue mil­i­tates against their ex­ploita­tion.

The New Zealand Gov­ern­ment has de­creed that 90 per cent of the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity should be sourced from re­new­ables by 2020. But this de­ci­sion is un­der fire from power sup­pli­ers over re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues and from man­u­fac­tur­ers fear­ing elec­tric­ity prices that may well make them un­com­pet­i­tive on the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

Af­ter 40 years, nu­clear is back on the ta­ble in New Zealand. It is not easy be­ing green.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.