Contact revisits plans for 4 dams

Decades-old plans for up to four hydro-electric projects on the Clutha River are being dusted off by Contact Energy, which plans to spend the rest of 2009 hearing what the public thinks about the prospects of dams dotting the landscape throughout Central and South Otago.

While the power company yesterday stressed it was not committing to building any dams on the river, its move to formally revisit plans for hydro-electric projects at Queensberry, Luggate, Beaumont and Tuapeka Mouth, and the appointment of a project manager, suggests it is seriously considering a major investment along the river.

Based on figures obtained by the Otago Daily Times, all four projects have the combined potential to supply power to nearly 400,000 households.

Their construction would inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the Otago economy.

The plans, a new website and the first talks with communities will be launched within the next 10 days, but most details are being kept secret for now.

Detailed plans of all four projects, once mooted by Contact's predecessor, ECNZ (Electricity Corporation of New Zealand), will be posted on a website next month and the public will, for the first time in more than 20 years, get a chance to respond to the idea of major dams being constructed on the river.

Contact media spokesman Jonathan Hill and its Clyde-based generation project manager, Neil Gillespie, said the company did not have specific plans for hydro-generation projects on the Clutha.

Contact was using historic plans as a tool to gauge public opinion about hydro development along the river.

"We've got various options we inherited [from ECNZ] and the next step for us is to put that information into a public place and invite the community to have a look at them and tell us what they think about them," Mr Hill said.

Contact wanted to understand what people in the communities that might be affected and in the wider Otago area viewed as the impacts and benefits of any, or all, of the projects going ahead.

"This is just a process for us just better trying to understand what people think.

And the real deal ...

... is 600 mm on Lake Roxburgh. Just like a three ring circus, we had to wait for the finale.
Kinda makes the flood mitigation works in Alexandra look a bit contrived.

Option 5

Option 5 should be the first option not the last one. I am motivated to write this after finding an old ODT (15th March 1968) ammong junk I was clearing out of a house yesterday.
How interesting it was, a whole newspaper. A time capsule.
In it were topics of the day that caught my eye. Public opposition to president Johnson's Vietnam war policy. Hon H R Muldoon not allowing three overseas speakers to attend a Wellington conference on Peace, Power, and Politics in Asia.
However what grabbed my attention was the headings on the front page. "Giant Lake", and on page 5, "A chain of possible dams and lakes in the Clutha River System." 1968, and Luggate, Lowburn, Clyde, Beaumont, and Tuapeka Mouth, are all shown as possible sites for dams on the Clutha River. In the article a Mr JF Henderson, district commissioner of works in Otago agreed that they showed "the worst that could happen" from a land-owner's point of view.
I can only agree. What a crock these plans were then, and still are, now. Many years have passed since then. Computers and cellphones, are just two examples of how far we have advanced our lives in the last 41 years. Virtually everything has changed since 1968. We have learnt the value of protecting our natural resources, and we have discovered the value of tourism.
We have also discovered the downside of the Roxburgh Dam. Silt build up causing flooding behind it, and sand depletion of Dunedin's beaches because of it. The natural rapids in the Roxburgh Gorge are gone forever. Since then there has been a greater appreciation of our natural resources, and the need to conserve them. We have also made major advances in the development of renewable energy production.
So what has the last 41 years taught us? We don't want, or need any more dams on the Clutha. They don't add value to our greatest natural resource. They rob us of it. This is 2009, not 1968.

I agree entirely ..

No slight of Neil's abilities or reputation is intended. And yes they have inherited the plans, but a thorough re-read of both versions will be needed to prove that they are the very same plans. Besides whilst still constrained by the same laws of physics, modern engineering is likely able to produce more cost effective solutions.

But wait there is more ... much more.

Today the 4th of March we have a the roll out of an explanation ... from Mark Trigg.
"Intermittent wind generation, especially in Otago and Southland, was likely to play a greater role in power generation and that might lead to a greater need for hydro generation, the application, authorised by Contact's generation manager, Mark Trigg says....". Its a bit like NASA. You ask for a Jupiter mission when you are really after a new Shuttle launch pad. The lessor is less traumatic to the affected communities collective socio-emotive budget. What Mr Trigg needs to do is expand upon the "greater need" part of his statement. Will we see more frequent, higher rapid river level rises as Contact balance the load when the wind drops. Will recreational users be adversely affected?. Will resident fish populations be affected?. Will we see more bank erosion in the lower Clutha.? Lots of questions not answered here. The future of power generation is in dispersion, in the backyards of consumers. The problem Mr Trigg is that when you are in a situation of fleecing the consumer, then do not expect them to be very helpful in building your empirical castles. The consumer will seek to usurp the single generator monopoly, they will then return to cheap power. If this is not so why has contact initiated new endeavors offering remote consumers, alternative in situ power solutions for irrigation etc. The real debate is whether dispersed generation would be successful. I say it has great possibilities. Look at the Internet with its node like structure, less transmission capacity required, less vulnerable to localised faults, more able to maintain regular service.

Option 5?

Ah, whoops... bit of a typo in my comment responding to RedTussock's 'Option 5' post.
I stated what I believe will be the agenda behind Contact Energy's ambitions to utilise the Clutha for hydro-electricity generation, saying CE will ... "harness the Clutha's energy whilst mitigating stackholder impact...". (STACKholder??? Doesn't make any sense!).
I meant to state ..."harness the Clutha's energy whilst mitigating STAKEholder impact...".
And - sure - while I'm certain CE will aim to maximise value for their STOCKholders, the intent of my post revolved around the behaviour CE will need to display to mitigate the impacts of the intended development on those we can reasonably consider to be the immediate stakeholders of her waters: for instance, river-side communities & irrigators (among many, many others).

Option 5?

RedTussock... the plans Contact are dusting off now last enjoyed real airplay before CE's birth, back in mid-96. You've asked Neil about the 'real' agenda behind CE's latest ambition, and I don't believe it's rocket science: determine how to best harness the Clutha's energy whilst mitigating stackholder impact as best as CE can practicably achieve. As a person who got to know Neil some time back - his integrity and professionalism was and, I suspect, remains, beyond reproach - I retain a gut feel there's probably very, very little more to it than that.


What about option 5 though ...

Quadruple the height of Clyde, Tunnel up to the Hollyford, the options are many and varied. No doubt we will end up with option 5, what Contact really want to happen. Contact want to be seen as being open and consultative. At least some sense might be starting to prevail in planning circles, with the stunningly simple realisation that wind power is fickle, and requires an equal and equivalent reliable capacity to cut in the moment the wind drops of. That is the true story of alternative power. I for one would prefer to see some sort of investigation into solar engines, similar to the California model, which disperses the generation out into consumers' backyards. We will never see that happen without intervention by central Government legislating fair prices for consumer sourced power generation. The question we ask is what is the real agenda Neil.