Cities: Auckland's eco-future: Unitary Plan unveilied

By Andy Kenworthy

Photo / Herald
Photo / Herald

Energy Production
Auckland keeps its lights on almost entirely using energy sources outside of its region. Even the natural gas plants at Greenmount and Rosedale in south Auckland

both use natural gas sourced from Taranaki.

The Council's Plan acknowledges that there is greater scope for renewable electricity generation in the form of wind, water, geothermal and biomass generation, as well as smaller-scale use of photovoltaic electricity generation from the sun, but for the most part this will be reliant on technologies still in development.

The Plan states: "All our electricity and transport fuels come in along single supply lines with no replacement routes in the event of disruption. This is not just an issue for Auckland, but also for Northland, which relies on electricity transmission through Auckland. Our supply chain is vulnerable to disruption from a range of influences including rising fuel prices, natural disasters, changing climatic conditions and the failure of the national grid."

The response is to maintain and upgrade the current electricity supply lines to improve the system's resilience and prepare it for these emergent technologies once they are ready to go on line. In the meantime Genesis Energy has been granted various resource consents for the establishment, construction, operation and maintenance of a gas-fired power station at Rodney to help meet growing demand and improve supply security to the upper North Island.

Clearly, Auckland will remain a long way from energy self-sufficient for a long time to come.

Best practice: Masdar
The energy systems of the showcase desert 'eco-city' of Masdar in the United Arab Emirates are probably the best demonstration of just how far off humanity is from being able to install large scale renewable energy generation inside an urban centre.

Originally launched in 2006 with the vision of becoming a fully self-sufficient city that would meet all its own energy needs and produce no waste, the dream has been scaled down somewhat to the point where although it is currently powered entirely from its own sources, only a model block of six buildings housing 60 staff and 240 students has been built. Masdar's developers now hope to source at least 20% of energy renewably on site as the city grows, with the rest coming in from outside. That said, city backer Sheik Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nayan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has bankrolled some very interesting experiments, which may provide just a glimpse of how something like this might work in the future.

A 22-hectare, 10MW solar photovoltaic plant is already operational within Masdar City, the largest such solar plant in the Middle East. The sun's energy is also being tapped via evacuated tube solar collectors to provide domestic hot water on a grand scale, and new research into possible air-conditioning solutions are under way.


A facade on the Masdar Institute Building

Energy Resilience and Low Carbon Action Plan
Having sustained access to clean, efficient and affordable energy, in a way that reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, is a critical challenge to Auckland becoming the world's most liveable city. Auckland Council is working with more than 100 stakeholders to develop Auckland's Energy Resilience and Low Carbon Action Plan.

Improving Auckland's resilience to risks associated with fossil fuel dependency, resource scarcity and energy price shocks, will result in far-reaching benefits to Auckland's economy, environment and liveability. It will also deliver on the Auckland Plan's aspirational target to achieve a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2040.

Every resident and business can play a crucial role in helping to reach this goal and in August this year, you'll have a chance to have your say on the plan.

Waste Management
The Council's finalised Waste Management and Minimisation Plan is so comprehensive and ambitious it has the potential to put the city among the world leaders in this field. Auckland currently produces a third of the nation's waste and spends $65 million a year dealing with it. If the Council's aspirational goal becomes reality, by 2040 this waste will be completed eliminated. All materials will be recycled in one way or another and virtually nothing will go to landfill.

In the meantime, for urban areas, this will mean fortnightly 'disposer-pays' kerbside refuse wheelie bin collections, in sizes ranging from 60 to 240 litres. It will cost about $2.50 per lift for an 80-litre bin. In rural areas the same service will be supplemented with 'disposer pays' prepaid bags in some areas. There will also be parallel fortnightly rates-funded kerbside recycling wheelie bin collections, in sizes ranging from 140 to 360 litres, with the aim of continually expanding the range of materials recycled.

The current inorganic collections will remain, and urban areas will also benefit from a new rate-funded organic waste collection, although whether this will be food only or include garden waste is as yet unclear. The potential byproducts of organic waste can be a rich resource - either through straight composting or, as in many cities around the world using biodigesters, turning household waste to methane (burned to create electricity or heat) and natural compost fertiliser.

There is also provision for a part-subsided recycling collection for domestic type waste from commercial properties, so that it becomes economical to recycle from work lunch rooms and desk-side bins. The council also plans a region-wide resource recovery network, including facilities for hazardous waste and construction and demolition material drop-off. And it will begin lobbying government for changes in the law that would promote waste minimisation nationwide. This would include advocacy of Container Deposit Legislation and the development of product stewardship schemes for electronic waste, tyres, batteries, nappies and more, where the products' manufacturers would share responsibility for receiving and processing the waste these things generate.

And on a similar note it will call for an extension to the Waste Minimisation Act that will give industry the same responsibilities for waste reduction as local authorities. It represents a revolution in the way we think about waste, and will be backed with education and community support to ensure the population gets behind it.

Best practice: San Francisco
In recent years San Francisco (below) has achieved the highest recycling rate of any major city in Canada or the US, diverting 80 per cent of its waste away from landfill. Beginning with a range of new recycling laws put in place in 2009, San Francisco residents are required to separate recyclables, compostables and landfill rubbish, and building design rules ensure proper space is allowed for recycling collection in new buildings.

The city has also banned the use of plastic bags and non-recyclable styrofoam-type containers in shops and restaurants. It has added a 20c 'litter tax' to the price of a packet of cigarettes and banned Yellow Pages from delivering their books unless residents have explicitly opted in to the service. Bottled water is no longer purchased by any of San Francisco's city departments and the authority's procurement rules now strongly favour recycled products as the first choice for local authority purchases.

To read about the Unitary Plan's vision for clean water, managing growth, creating a transport network and sustainable buildings see here.

Have your say in Auckland's future: The council wants to know what Aucklanders think.?Until May 31, Aucklanders will be able to view the draft e-plan to see what it says about their property and neighbourhood. Visit shapeauckland.co.nz to find out more about what the plan will mean for Auckland, then join in the conversation, have your say and help shape the way the city grows.

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