Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Project Aqua; or How to Lose $4 Million a Day.

New Zealand's hydro scheme that wasn't has been the news that's been dominating the airways for the past two days. Depending on who you listen to Meridian's decision to can the project is either; a victory for the environment and sustainability (the environmentalists), or the biggest disaster since the All Blacks got bundled out of the last Rugby World Cup. Today's been all about the chilly power-cut ridden future that is looming just around the corner. Carter Holt Harvey is making veiled mutterings about heading offshore if they can't get a regular and stable power supply and it seems they're not the only ones in the corporate world with that attitude. In fact the consensus from the so called experts is we're fucked. If we can't come up with a cheap and easy way of generating power we can confidently anticipate huddling around our woodfires in total darkness just a few winters from now (except not in Christchurch of course where for smog reasons fires are being done away with ... you poor buggers are going to freeze to death!).

So what does it all mean? Essentially we seem to be paying the price for two decades of sitting on our collective chuffs and figuring that because the light came on when we flicked the switch it'd always continue to do so. Well maybe it might have had we actually planned for a growing energy demand. Unfortunately a gentleman by the name of Max Bradford decreed that when it came to electricity the free market reigned supreme and if more generation was needed then the market would see it done. The market had different ideas to Max and was adamant it wasn't going to spend billions on building dams, windfarms or whatever. Especially not when for the previous 100 years or so that had been the job of the Government.

Then we had a government change and to further add confusion to the mix an interesting little piece of legislation known as the Resource Management Act began to make its presence felt. There're a couple ways to view the RMA. In one universe (Marion Hobbs) it's a finely balanced and wonderful mechanism that allows everyone to have their say on issues/projects/proposals that affect them. In the real world it's a right royal pain in the arse if you want to get something done quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. While I believe the RMA was never meant to do this it has in fact (and I'm sure Meridian won't argue) is make it extremely difficult to get developments up and running. If everyone has a say (and they invariably do) any planning process becomes a long drawn out ordeal as anyone and everyone puts their two cents in. And it doesn't just apply to hydro schemes either ... if you don't believe me just have a chat to some Canterbury farmers who're trying to renew water consents at a time when the regional council has flagged their area a "red zone" as far as water allocation is concerned.

Meridian's put a fair amount of the blame on the RMA and given the costs of planning the project was costing it 4 million dollars a month one can possibly understand the sentiment. However what did they expect? I mean seriously, they were looking to take 60% of the water out of the Wataki River and they claimed environmental values wouldn't be affected. I'll tell you this, if I took 60 percent of your bathwater out of your bathtub your environment would be most definitely affected. Furthermore the Project Aqua premise is not exactly new if the Forest and Bird Protection Society is to be believed. Apparently it's been tried and failed in one guise after another since the early 1980's. What's Meridian thinking? If at first you don't succeed feel free to fail again!

In a way the crisis we're in (if we are in one, it depends who you listen to) may not be a bad thing. Who knows maybe it'll encourage us to use more solar power, insulate more efficiently, and generally use energy resources better. Hell maybe our parents had the right idea in the 70's with their hippy philosophies.

Or just maybe we'll go back even further. Anyone want to place any bets on coal's future role in keeping NZ's lights on?

No comments: