Thursday, 19 August 2010

Waitati Energy Project

By Scott Willis

What is the Balance?
With new 10 Megawatt wind turbines in development, and 3 and 5
Megawatt turbines already a reality, bigger is better, right?
Certainly, this is the way wind development is going, as the limits of
renewable generation are addressed. Limits like accessing remote
hilltops, and the potentially long and uncertain journey of resource
consent. The new megaturbines in development are designed to work
off-shore mainly, away from that 'thing' that bothers many turbine
developments: people. Of course, off-shore means other issues, like
very expensive infrastructure (make it bigger to make it
cost-efficient, the argument goes…), like maintenance challenges and
corrosion of parts.
As you all know though, generation is only one part of the picture,
and if we concentrate only on that we won't be able to address the
real issues around energy. Reassuringly, with the benefit of local
research, WEP meetings and public meetings, it appears that in the
Blueskin Bay area most people want balance, not generation for the
sake of it. We'll get more insight as public consultation gets
underway, but for now, lets assume that most people in Blueskin Bay
(Waitati, Warrington, Evansdale and Purakaunui; or the 'Waitati
Sub-Station area') think it would be a good thing if we could generate
all or most of our local electricity needs, and moderate our use. This
is essentially what 'Blueskin Power' – the community turbine – is all
about: creating renewable generation to cover our needs (more or less)
and to provide local control over energy costs, with income from the
turbine to fund programmes to retrofit, install solar, etc.
We're looking at a single 750 – 850 Kilowatt turbine, probably in a
group of three turbines in total, with the other two belonging to a
development partner. We almost certainly need a partner to allow us to
sell our electricity back to the market (which we have to do). These
turbines are very modest compared to most terrestrial wind generation
and they will be visible, because the only place to get the good wind
is up high, in prominent locations.
But back to that human problem. Electricity, without exaggeration, is
key to just about everything we do. It is essential infrastructure,
and some might argue, an 'entitlement', or ours by right. But any
sense of entitlement obscures the thing itself; it obscures the nature
of our electricity (some of it comes from Huntly, some from very large
hydro, and all comes from a long way away), and it obscures the cost
of it (environmental, social and economic). But if we stick with the
idea that electricity is 'essential infrastructure', then we can
secure our infrastructure, gain greater control over it and the
purposes to which it is put, through our collective action. I'd rather
integrate generation with energy efficiency and reduction of energy
demand, to show that we don't always need to build bigger, more, and
further afield. So rather than assuming a 'right' (which actually
involves a contract and paying a monthly subscription), what if we
aimed for a balance? A balance that would involve things like a
community turbine AND ultrasmart meters (letting us know how much
we're consuming at the same moment the turbine is turning), AND
further insulation opportunities/ new solar opportunities, for
example. So while big developers may see people as the challenge, in
Blueskin Bay as we ensure that the benefits are equitably spread and
real, I'm optimistic that people will be the solution, not the
problem.

Wind Testing
There's well over 12 months worth of data from our two local wind
stations now. What began with GEOG380 was taken over by MSc. student
Alice Bowden, and now Alice is nearing completion with her masters.
Consequently, one wind station has been taken down, and the other has
been simplified, to maintain basic data collection, while Alice works
on analysis. I'm anticipating that as Alice goes through the final
analysis and cross references the NIWA data from weather stations in
our area (as well as the other wind data we hold), we'll receive some
pretty accurate meso-level appraisal of the wind potential. We know
already that a higher wind station would be desirable, but that will
need to be site specific (for specific accuracy). Essentially, working
with the University, we won't be looking at any more student work and
testing until 2011. However if we enter into a development
partnership, more intense resources may be brought to bear to sharpen
the data we have already. Meanwhile, I hope you're keeping warm and
looking forward to the fireworks on the 18th of September like me!
For more information or to subscribe to the WEP e-list, email me at
waitatienergy@gmail.com or phone 482 2048.


Caption: Balance in Blueskin Bay? These are German Cows exemplifying a
multifunctional landscape.

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