Dairy Holdings hopes to reconsent the hydro scheme that powers most of its Fereday Island farm in Canterbury.
Dairy Holdings chair Colin Glass said the company submitted an application for reconsent last year, but had considerable hurdles to clear before Environment Canterbury would approve the application.
The Fereday Island farm used to be owned by Rowan and Linda McMath, who installed four turbines that were powered by an offshoot of the Fereday Stream, Glass said.
The turbines powered irrigation pumps, pivots and some of the dairy shed.
The McMaths showed a lot of foresight when they established the small-scale hydro scheme in 2008, and used to be net exporters of power into the local grid, he said.
The turbines produced about 300 kilowatts of electricity at maximum capacity, he said.
Glass said even though Environment Canterbury was very supportive, the process for reconsent was arduous and costly.
“We’re finding that consent renewal on projects like this are incredibly challenging.”
The scheme works on the Dairy Holdings farm because it uses most of the energy it generates, he said.
However, if such a scheme was set up mostly to feed back into a local network, the “marginal earnings become very marginal”, he said.
It made sense for Dairy Holdings to reconsent and modernise the scheme, but the cost for an owner operator to set up such a scheme would likely be prohibitive, he said.
“We thought a consent renewal would be reasonably seamless. It will be a matter of putting up the work that was done originally, but now we’re finding that it’s a lot more significant than that.
“The way this has played out would nearly be enough to cause us to question whether we should do this in terms of finance and time and effort,” he said.
It appears that there isn’t clear regulatory distinction between large-scale projects and smaller projects, he said.
“Both need a similar level of reporting. It makes it really challenging for smaller scale projects.”
Dairy Holdings chair Colin Glass says the process to reconsent the hydro scheme on its Fereday Island farm could exceed $100,000 in costs – and there needs to be distinction between smaller on-farm schemes and large industrial schemes.
Consenting for small-scale projects needs to be made more seamless in future to allow farmers to operate renewable energy projects, he said.
Glass said Dairy Holdings saves about $200,000 a year by using power from the scheme.
If a completely new system was to be built, each turbine would cost about $250,000, excluding the electricity supply network, or any race maintenance, he said.
The process has taken about a year, with a lot of work, such as reports on stream ecology and fish screening, still to be undertaken, Glass said.
Fereday stream is regarded as a non-consumptive take and the McMaths originally secured consent for up to four cumecs, out of an offshoot of the Rakaia River. A cumec is equivalent to one cubic metre of water flow per second.
“Effectively it’s operating in a channel that supplies irrigation water to a number of other farms,” Glass said.
Once the water passes through the turbines it is discharged back into the Rakaia river, he said.
“We’re not diverting additional water for this, simply enabling the irrigation diversion channel to run as it would typically… it’s simply utilising what is already there.”
The farm runs about 1200 cows at peak milk and has a grazing support operation of about 300ha on the farm.
“At the end of the day I’d imagine it [consenting] will be going close to $100,000 by the time we have finished this process.”
Dairy Holdings upgraded the farm’s irrigation to spray irrigation, which has increased the energy demand on the farm, Glass said.
It also upgraded the turbines, he said.
“At peak we’re very close to being able to generate enough energy to be able to run all the irrigation pumps.
“We’re quite proud of what’s starting to play out on the farm. It’s opening our eyes to what might be possible elsewhere as we start to think about how farms can be more self-contained for their energy requirements in a decarbonised future.”