Mar/Apr 2015 News

In Southland, Pioneer Generation are constructing a small wind farm at Flat Hill, about 3km from Bluff, soon to be commissioned. Also in Bluff, Awarua Marae is installing a small wind turbine to power the marae and establish a more resilient energy system for this important community institution. Here in Blueskin we’re busy too.

It's a relatively simple task to pour concrete and bolt towers to foundations, attach blades and start generating electricity. That's only the end point of a great deal of preparation however. Work on the Blueskin Wind Development is now picking up speed and we’re also working with other communities around NZ who have similar ambitions and who are working hard to develop their own projects. We now have plenty of resources and know-how to share and we’re more than happy to help where we can. But this month wind has to take a back-seat, with all that is happening in the solar world.

Testing Tower sky

Testing tower in changing weather

Meridian’s Chief Executive Mark Binns claims solar is creating a social divide. According to him the reason there’s a growing a social divide between the haves and the have-nots is because a) it's the rich who can afford solar, and b) the cost of providing electricity via transmission lines then falls on a smaller pool of consumers, i.e. those who can’t afford solar. Thus a social divide apparently caused by solar.

Our local electricity networks cover their largely fixed costs of transmission (power poles, transformers, electricity) through a variable charge on the kilowatt hours of electricity we use. As more people connect solar panels and reduce their electricity purchases (saving money and contributing to a more resilient local system), so lines companies may eventually want to increase their line rates to offset the fact that they are delivering less electricity. And as electricity increases in price, more people connect to solar, less electricity is delivered etc, and so it goes on…

A wholesale system change appears to be underway and a new approach needed. It is no surprise that the big companies are pushing back when revenues and their safe business model are threatened. Next we may see a demand for a special ‘fee’ from solar users to go to the industry. It seems that they are saying ‘Energy democracy, energy resilience - not yet please!’

Effectively, individuals are now paying for and building new renewable generation on their own properties – in just the same way that the big generators do. If the big generators want to sustain their market dominance surely they could embrace solar and have the public generate their power for them. Each time there’s been a change in the way energy is produced in New Zealand, there’s been an adaptation in the systems to incorporate new generation. So why the pain when it’s owned by the people? This is more a question of energy democracy than social divide…

By the way, there’s a diversity of households investing in solar at present, so its hardly just the well off as claimed.