The local energy sector is fizzing. Mercury is putting finishing touches on the north wing of its Turitea windfarm, and raising the south wing above the Kahuterawa.
A community gathering was recently hosted by wind farmers planning to cut noise and boost power output. Meridian is scoping grid-scale battery storage, listing Manawatū as a location of interest.
Hiringa is sharing plans for eight hydrogen fuel stations, including one in Manawatū. ChargeNet has switched on a second site for Palmy, enhancing its network of more than 250 fast chargers for electric cars.
All this creating and using energy greatly eases our lives and livelihoods, but has ecological costs. Happily, we've come a long way since the days of coal, oil and gas being the only options. Most new energy projects are at least partly renewable. But they still have consequences.
Windfarms use massive concrete bases. Turbines occasionally burst into flames. Hydrogen is often made by burning fossil fuel. Batteries need rare metals. Silicon wafers in solar panels are hard to recycle. No wonder the experts say energy conservation is our best path to sustainability.
Recently, waste to energy made its debut appearance in Manawatū headlines. A facility is proposed in Feilding, aiming to burn waste and harvest energy. No surprise it's attracting public interest. Some are excited about the new technology and jobs on offer. Others are concerned by the sparse public information and possible health and environmental effects. Is it a proposal the community should support?
Promoted by a company called Bioplant, its website outlines the basics. It plans to use pyrolysis to burn more than 15,000 tonnes of waste, a mixture of municipal rubbish and plastic. If all goes to plan, it will churn out 2MWh of electricity, more than 5 million litres of diesel and 720 tonnes of ash each year. Burning that diesel will release more than 13,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Currently, the portion of our waste that isn't reused or recycled gets trucked to a hole in the ground called Bonny Glen, on the road between Marton and Whanganui. In addition to emissions created carting the waste, the landfill releases methane that isn't fully contained. Not a sustainable system. Is burning any better?
I expect if locals were more aware of the waste-to-energy facility proposed in Feilding, there'd be a raft of questions. What will be burned? What won't be burned? What's in the smokestack emissions? Is it healthy to live near a pyrolysis plant? Does burning waste create the wrong incentives for a carbon-neutral, zero-waste future? Is it better to bury plastic waste, or burn it?
These sorts of questions should be asked and answered in public, so I fully endorse Zero Waste Network's call for consultation. It's disappointing Manawatū District Council as civic partner, and Horizon Regional Council as a regulator, have, in my opinion, thus far minimised public engagement.
Before it gets considered for sign-off by Horizons, locals should all have a fair opportunity to learn about the project, see the technology, ask questions, receive answers, and form their own views about the rewards and risks of creating a waste-to-energy business in our community.
Waste is at the heart of our unsustainable industrial consumer society. Once waste is designed and created, it is a problem. Regardless of what we do with it.
Burning waste creates problems. Burying waste creates problems. Waste undercuts all our best efforts to protect nature and defuse the climate crisis. So when it comes to new waste-to-energy proposals, it's worth the community getting a look and having their say.
• Brent Barrett is an environmental advocate, city councillor and scientist. The views expressed here are his own.