Wednesday, 18 July 2012

OPINION: How far are we prepared to compromise?

by Jeanette Fitzsimons, Patron of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust

Derek's article (July Blueskin News, p30) raises the old question of whether it is possible to aspire to sustainable communities, sustainable lifestyles, or particularly, a sustainable Aotearoa in a world where the power is held by deeply unsustainable planet-pillagers, oppressors of the poor, mass murderers, and their military defenders.


Personally, I am appalled at the resources and ingenuity that go into making weapons of mass destruction and would much prefer that a different partner for Windflow Technology (WF) had been found. But it wasn't.


Personally, I'm appalled at the actions of oil companies but I can't get by without driving a car. I spend my life trying to stop new coalmines but I can't avoid the use of steel which is currently made with coal. The council forced us to put a steel beam around the large windows that allow the solar gain into our house because this is a high wind area. I feel compromised at every step.


Does this mean we should give up?


In some cases, yes. If the compromise means we strengthen and legitimate the forces of destruction, that for me is a step too far. I guess everyone will draw their moral boundaries in different places but the important thing is that we draw them somewhere, and Derek is quite right to raise the issue.


In this case, we have a small and innovative firm which has succeeded spectacularly in its engineering purpose: a robust wind turbine built for New Zealand's high wind energy sites. Medium scale that suits communities rather than large corporate generators. Exceptionally robust – at the high wind Te Rere Hau site which now has well over 100 turbine-years of operating experience, availability has been 96%. The neighbouring Trust Power wind farm with imported turbines has been replacing gear boxes every few months.


Windflow has not had NZ orders for its machines since the commissioning of Te Rere Hau, set up by a WF subsidiary, because the NZ electricity market is peculiarly hostile to independent generators if they are using a renewable energy source. There is no provision for backup power when the wind is not blowing other than at the whim of the large competitor generators, and at a price they set. Unlike many other developed countries we have no feed-in tariff to guarantee sales for renewable power.


The gentailers who control both generation and retailing are only interested in giant scale turbines like the 3MW machines Meridian currently favours, and would prefer communities just left it all to them and bought their power passively at whatever price they set. In a sustainable world we would have an electricity market that favoured renewables and provided fair back up contracts for them. Until we can create that world, we will have to deal with very unfair rules.


Do we let a company like this, providing excellent technology at a community scale, a good employer with well-paying jobs in Christchurch, saving overseas funds and supporting many small businesses who make parts for it, go under?  By the time the deal with General Dynamics was signed, this was the only alternative.


If we were making parts for their weapons, if we were making them more profitable or supporting their business, I would see it differently. But if some remote military installations run on wind power rather than diesel, where is the harm? It could be argued that we are making the military look more benign and so improving its PR. But General Dynamics doesn't need Windflow to improve its PR. Those who oppose warmongering are hardly going to change their view because of a few turbines.


Back in the seventies I was very impressed with a saying of the famous activist Saul Alinsky. It sounds rather dated and seventies now, but I think the underlying thought still has relevance for our strategy: "Use the system to screw the system".

No comments: