DWC worked closely with GNS Science over the latter part of the year as they sought regional partners topursue further research into the commercial viability and potential capacity for a geothermal energy resource that exists along the Alpine Fault. As a result, the study achieved the funding, stakeholder collaboration and resourcing necessary to commence in early 2018.
Bioenergy is energy from biological sources like wood and other plant materials, and can be used as a solid, liquid, or gas. Bioenergy is the most-used renewable energy globally, ahead of hydroelectricity and wind. It has become a major industry in many European countries and there is potential for this to happen in New Zealand.
Wood biomass is the main source of wood energy in New Zealand, coming in various forms, including firewood, shavings, sawdust, wood chips, agricultural crops and bark. Local West Coast mills generate an estimated 3,000 tonnes of wet slab timber per month. At present this is sent to Christchurch as wet chip and is used for MDF board and animal bedding.
A meeting to discuss future opportunities for the wood energy industry and related sectors on the West Coast was facilitated by DWC in 2017. This was attended by representatives of the West Coast Timber Association, local sawmillers, Westland Milk Products, Ngai Tahu Forest Estates, among others, and signalled a definite interest in the potential going forward; both for the forestry and timber industry and for energy end-users.
The forum was addressed by consultants from Ahika who were very involved in research to establish the commercial viability of a wood fuels project in Southland and are now replicating that research for Otago. In June 2017 a group from the West Coast forum, including representatives from DWC and Ngai Tahu Forest Estates, attended the Wood Fuels Symposium in Invercargill. The two day conference provided valuable information to the West Coast delegation about the viability of using wood residues for heat production.
Ngāti Waewae Chair and Development West Coast Trustee Francois Tumahai (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāti Waewae, Ngāti Whātua), is excited about the opportunity. “I like the idea of creating more jobs on the West Coast and I certainly think there is space for bioenergy here, especially in schools, hospitals, community centres, and even in the heating of community swimming pools,” says Francois.
“It’s a great concept but I think it will ultimately come down to user demand. In the meantime, DWC is looking into it seriously. We need to understand more about bioenergy – what’s required, how it will ‘compete’ against the huge quantity of low-grade coal we have on the Coast.”
Francois says there are many variables to explore, particularly around the feasibility and costeffectiveness for smaller businesses or whether bioenergy is better suited to large-scale operations. As the largest Māori commercial forest owner in New Zealand, Ngāi Tahu Forest Estates is keen to ensure a sustainable future. It is working with DWC in the hopes of establishing additional bioenergy plants there, starting with a feasibility study.