Engagement stories: Kaipara tidal power

Crest Energy has won approval to install turbines in the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour in northern New Zealand. But when lengthy compliance and court processes position stakeholders as adversaries, there will inevitably be losers. How might we find a win-win?

Crest Energy plans to install up to 200 turbines in the mouth of the harbour, to generate up to 200 mw of electricity. The Kaipara harbour is the largest harbour in the southern hemisphere of 947 km2 with a 800 kilometre shoreline. About 8 billion cubic metres of water flow through the harbour entrance daily.

Looking from the dunes to the  wild and magnificent Kaipara Harbour entrance

The Minister of Conservation, Kate Wilkinson, announced on 17 March 2011, approval for Crest Energy’s turbines. Local stakeholders, including local Mäori, farmers and fishers responded by organising further meetings in protest. The Indigenous people of the area are Te Uri o Hau, a hapu (subtribe) of Ngati Whatua. Along with local farmers and fishers, Te Uri o Hau are concerned about the environmental impacts of the turbines.

Stakeholder engagement?

Projects such as this have multiple community stakeholders. The people of Northland and Auckland will benefit from a renewable energy supply, and New Zealand’s supply of electricity of renewables will be further enhanced from the current 74%. But the big unknown is the environmental impact of 200 turbines spinning in the depths of the harbour entrance. The Environmental Court supported Te Uri o Hau’s request for environmental monitoring – but the hapu is still concerned.

When engagement processes get to court, it can hardly be called engagement. Positions tend to become entrenched on both sides. Is there a third way? Is there will to explore a third way?

Riparian planting at Whaingaroa Harbour

The good people at Whaingaroa harbour near Raglan further down the west coast of New Zealand have planted over a million trees on the margins of the harbour and the rivers and streams that feed it. After a decade, the result has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of silt and animal waste entering the harbour. Seagrasses have returned to the intertidal zones and marine life, from tiny invertebrates to fish species, have a better environment and populations are rapidly increasing. Here is a link to a  video demonstrating the improvements.

A win-win?

What’s the connection? I’m guessing that any negative environmental impact of the turbines would be dwarfed by the positive impact of environmental improvements resulting from a riparian planting project on the Kaipara. Of course, the massive Kaipara dwarfs the Whaingaroa harbour – but over time, replanting is achievable. Crest Energy has a great opportunity to divert a small percentage of power revenue to support replanting projects, and create a positive association between the company’s renewable energy production and harbour restoration.

It will be interesting to see if the various stakeholder aspirations can be achieved to create a win-win.

More links

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