Monday, September 26, 2005

I'm glad I don't live in Whangarei

Mighty River Power has been granted resource consent for its plan to convert the mothballed Marsden B power station to coal. Note the "convert". Rather than using modern technology which is at least capable of burning coal relatively cleanly and efficiently, Mighty River will be using the original quarter-century old boilers, originally designed to burn oil, with a few scrubbers stuck on the exhaust. The result will be grossly inefficient - 34% compared with the 50%-plus for modern systems - as well as utterly filthy. Mighty River will be able to keep its costs low, but local residents will pay for it in lung cancer. I'm so glad I don't live in Whangarei.

OTOH, Mighty River doesn't have it that easy. The consent has almost 160 conditions on it, including harsh limits on emissions into Bream Bay designed to protect water quality. In particular, they're only being allowed to emit a twelth of the mercury they had asked for, which may be enough to sink the project right there. There will almost certainly be appeals from both sides, and we just have to hope that Mighty River loses.


Yes and no. If they can figure out a way of burning it cleanly such that it passes all the objections raised in accordance with the RMA, then I don't see anything wrong with it.

However you'd think that a side effect of burning increased levels of coal would be lots of pollutants. Note I'm not considering the fertiliser CO2 a pollutant :).

However we might just end up falling into the same trap with Coal that we did with Oil - when there's an apparently infinite amount of it around, it's cheap. "Peak Coal" production might be 200 years away, but that still makes it a limited resource.

I say let them go ahead with it. It'll make the RMA critics STFU. Cap the pollutants limit, then make that limit reduce even further if the station is less than 50% efficient, to give them an incentive to make the plant more efficient. Then slap a big tax on coal use and use the money to fund research into super efficent and clean systems for burning coal (and hopefully also biofuels) and get that in the public domain.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/26/2005 06:14:00 PM

>residents will pay for it in lung cancer.

Really? I would think a claim like that would require a bit of supporting evidence.

Posted by Genius : 9/26/2005 06:42:00 PM

Coal Research (a CRI based in Lower Hutt) has been conducting it's own coal gasifiction trials over the last few years. It's recieved little publicity and I wonder what the outcome has been. mmm.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/26/2005 09:18:00 PM

Genius: the link between airborne particulates and lung cancer (and lung disease in general) is well known.

Logix: Gasification promises relatively high efficiencies and clean burning. Unfortunately, AFAIK its still in the experimental stage. Mighty River certainly aren't planning on using it at Marsden B - that would cost money.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/26/2005 11:17:00 PM

So what you're saying, I/S, is that the RMA protects neither the property rights of those in Whanagarei, nor the environment.

Could it be that a better solution is needed for these things than the blunt instrument of the RMA? How about common law, which has seven-hundred years of sophistication in dealing with precisely these issues?

If you can objectively prove damage in common law, even prove it in advance if the grounds for showing the damage accrued by coal burning are clear, then you have legal recourse. Under the RMA, what you have is a license to pollute, and the license is not necessarily granted on any objective criteria that are important to those people in Whangarei who may be damaged.

Posted by Peter Cresswell : 9/27/2005 08:00:00 AM

PC: I think the RMA mechanism is generally sound, and that while I don't like the decision, it doesn't seem grossly out of step with the law or the regional plan. Which points the finger squarely where it belongs: on the government, for not having solid environmental protections which would have forced Mighty River to use cleaner technology, and on the regional council, for not having a regional plan which would impose tougher restrictions. Fortunately, given local anger over this decision, the latter may be self-correcting.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/27/2005 09:01:00 AM

"Fortunately, given local anger over this decision, the latter may be self-correcting."

Do you mean by 'self-correcting' that the decision will effectively be reversed, as it was in the Whanganui River decision?

Talk about a blunt imstrument.

Posted by Peter Cresswell : 9/27/2005 09:25:00 AM

> Genius: the link between airborne particulates and lung cancer (and lung disease in general) is well known.

I am not saying you are not right - just that you are arguing that a certain group of people are going to kill another group of people. serious claims deserve serious consideration.

for example
what are their emission levels?
what is the generally accepted dangerous levels?
what is the actual danger at those levels?

Given the right facts, of course, the argument against the venture would be irrefutable and the people involved should be in serious trouble.

Posted by Genius : 9/27/2005 04:49:00 PM