Photo: Shelley Grell
Renewable Hydro Energy
Tasman’s passion for hydro BY SHELLEY GRELL
lean renewable energy wouldn’t be the first common factor that comes to mind when considering asbestos, gold, iron and farming. Yet for an eclectic society of talented individuals living in an environment that wins hearts from all over the world, renewable energy is precisely what these old industries in Golden Bay share in common. The Cobb hydro and dam, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, was built in conjunction with work on an asbestos mine. The 90-year-old Pupu hydro uses a water race that was originally built to sluice for gold. Farm irrigation was the primary reason for starting the Waitui hydro scheme, and Onekaka hydro and dam once powered an iron and steel company. One by one these historic ventures have been rejuvenated and extended to deliver much needed renewable power generation for the region. Each scheme has been driven by passionate personalities who’ve had the perseverance to endure numerous and costly challenges, delays and compliance.
use of energy is combustion engines. Making them electric would increase demand by 40 percent on the system, which will not cope by several Waitaki schemes.” Costing $1.8m, Harwood’s Waitui hydro scheme meets most of the farm’s energy and irrigation needs. It also provides a passive 11.5 percent annual return in profit that is reinvested with plans to expand the farm’s efficient use and generation of renewable energy. “It’s worth it,” says Nigel. “But even hydro has challenges in dry years when demand is high and the lakes and rivers run low. New Zealanders aren’t keen on damming rivers, so there’s less support for hydro than other renewable options to meet electricity demand. But if there’s access to a viable water source and the right support, then it’s worth considering. “Government can’t build big hydro schemes for the 8c/KW that we managed to build ours for; it cost 22c/KW to build the Clyde power station in 1992. To create the cheap renewable energy we need, it makes more sense to incentivise operators to build their own schemes efficiently for the right price,” he says.
Interest in renewable energy has always been strong. We’re one of the leading countries in the OECD for renewable electricity penetration with 82 percent of our electricity coming from hydro, geothermal, wind and biomass. We have more electric vehicles in our region per capita and we do lots to reduce our impact on the environment. But it’s not enough. Councils are declaring climate emergencies, while New Zealand consults on a new target in line with the Zero Carbon Bill that will necessitate radical change to meet. Farmer Nigel Harwood recently extended his run-of-river hydro scheme in Upper Takaka to generate 1.85 gigawatt hours (GWh) of clean electricity annually. He says, “New Zealand’s biggest Above: Clockwise - At 794m in altitude, the Cobb dam and spillway is almost 600m vertically above the power station; two-and-a-half kilometres of 1000ml pipe run from the intake to the Waitui hydro powerhouse 40
Photo: Nigel Harwood
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