Alternative power for
Stewart Island/Rakiura

Let the locals own it!

By Tim Hanna

Stewart Island/Rakiura’s modest electricity grid is currently powered by three diesel generators operated by the Southland District Council. Locals pay through the nose for this power and given that Tourists visit to experience one of the cleanest, greenest places on earth this is obviously inappropriate.

Accordingly the Council has entered an agreement with Meridian Energy to conduct a small trial of renewable energy generation including wind and solar power. My question is – why is Meridian involved? Surely this is a wonderful opportunity to develop a community owned power company to radically reduce costs to locals rather than subject them to the rapacious charges that Meridian will inevitably impose.

Would it not be better for the council to buy a windmill and supply homes on the island with solar panels and continue to charge them at current rates until it is all paid off. At that point the system could be turned over to a local trust to run and maintain it – with no Meridian in sight?

One issue, regardless of who owns the system, will be power storage. The obvious answer is a battery bank, but an alternative might be to pump water up hill with excess power and to run it back down through a turbine as it is needed through the night.

Whatever way it goes the residents should own it. This could be, with obvious modifications, a model for the entire Southland region.

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