Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And The Wind Cries Nimby

windmillAfter you've read the John McCain quote in the post below, you may  wonder if, by proposing to put used nuclear fuel, including that of the United States, into some kind of international repository, he is falling prey to the worst NIMBY argument imaginable or acknowledging that other countries, notably Russia, have offered to serve as just such a repository.

Frankly, we don't know, but his comments did highlight the NIMBY issues that can infect any effort, however benign it might otherwise seem. Take, for example, wind power, which doesn't generate anything that needs to be recycled or stored but does require expansive land masses on which to plant windmills.

Artist Grahame Sydney yesterday said nuclear power in New Zealand was preferable to a huge wind farm on the Lammermoor Range in Central Otago.

Well, we can't fault Mr. Sydney for bad taste in energy choices. Let's see what else he has to say:

"If given the option between 176 turbines on the sweeping Central Otago vistas and a single nuclear station, I would certainly prefer the latter," Sydney said during cross-examination. He said after the hearing that nuclear energy, with several other options, was dependable and predictable, unlike wind generation.

Hurmff. Far be it from us to ding a supporter of nuclear energy, but we wonder if his research into its superiority was partially motivated by not wanting that wind farm cluttering up the skyline. Oh, maybe he does say that:

In his written evidence, he had said landscapes had a power and a meaning which was real, mysterious, and vital to many people's sense of identity. "They play a vital role, aesthetic, cultural and spiritual, in the lives of New Zealanders."

We suspect Meridian Energy, which wants to put up the wind farm, has run smack into an artists' colony. Not only do the prospective neighbors want unspoiled vistas, but they're mighty articulate about it, too, making them effective spokesmen for their cause.

"I see myself in the hills and valleys of Central Otago and feel I am being watched by them. I am a creature of the wide-open spaces, I feel liberated there, imbued with the possibilities otherwise denied me," [Oturehua poet and writer Brian] Turner said.

What do you say to that, bub?

Meridian Energy counsel Humphrey Tapper said Project Hayes' specific site did not prominently feature in an art archive produced by 30 artists expressing Central Otago landscapes.

Artist 1, Meridian 0. We can see New Zealanders being not especially sympathetic to big bad energy, even if Meridian is doing exactly what is wanted - creating a source of emission free electricity generation in a fairly remote area of their country. If not exactly Yucca Mountain, this wind farm points up the frustrations that will be faced as new energy sources ramp up, be it wind, nuclear or solar -all those ugly panels cluttering up "my" pristine desert landscape! - but they must be faced regardless.

Maybe McCain can square this circle, maybe Obama will find the way. But McCain seems to have just missed it this time. We'll stay tuned.

Note: The picture above is of a windmill from 1800 or so - Nothing like today's ultra-modern dragonfly spinners. Perhaps if the wind energy folk made them look more like this, New Zealand artists would have less to complain about.


Anonymous said...

NZ is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It has immense vistas of breathtaking beauty. I can understand why there would be many who would be concerned with cluttering up hundreds of square miles of territory with 400-foot tall monsters every quarter of a mile or so.

It is primarily an agrarian land, with a small population (of people), somewhat socialistic in political/economic tendencies. They get quite a bit of energy from geothermal, although that has caused some concerns (land subsidence). My guess is that if nuclear plants can be made small and modular with a low visual profile (once-through cooling or low-height cooling towers like at Palo Verde) then the idea might receive some positive reception.

Matthew66 said...

One of the concerns about nuclear is the ability to integrate large (i.e. 1000 MWe) plants into a comparatively small grid. I would have thought that having an electricity generation system based on the AP600 would have suited them right down to the ground.

goonie said...

NZ is very unsuited for present nuclear technology. It's got roughly the population of greater Boston, spread over two long, skinny islands, and the majority of its electricity comes from hydro and geothermal energy.

But something the size of the AP600, or, even better, the PBMR or some of the other small reactors on the drawing boards, would be just fine.

And, yes, while there is an element of NIMBYism going on here, isn't it reasonable to say that, yes, I would prefer one moderate-size industrial building somewhere near Auckland, to hundreds of concrete towers on top of the prettiest mountains?

Anonymous said...

Build a smaller, modular plant near Auckland, another near Wellington, and if the Mainlanders want in on the action, maybe another outside Christchurch. That ought to about do it. No nasty, visually-cluttered windmills to block those gorgeous views. Good on yer, Kiwis. If you can do it, it'll be my shout...