A new $8 million facility to investigate ways to harness marine energy has been promised for New Plymouth if the Green Party gets into power.
The new “Taranaki Marine Energy Regional Research Institute” would investigate ways to harness the energy of the waves and tides, Green Party energy and resources spokesperson Gareth Hughes announced on Wednesday.
Speaking to a group of around 50 people at a First Union meeting in New Plymouth, Hughes said the new initiative would counter the declining oil and gas industry in the region.
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“What we’ve seen over the past few years is as the price of oil has dropped, the amount of jobs has declined, the amount of income has declined,” he said.
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“There’s a limit to how much oil we can drill but we want to keep that expertise, that engineering expertise this region has.
“Taranaki would be the perfect location to lead research into marine energy, building on the existing expertise in energy developments and marine engineering.”
He said there was enough energy in Cook Strait to power homes, farms and business all around New Zealand, but the technology to harness it needed to be developed.
“The Regional Research Institute would provide a focal point for industry, researchers and the public to investigate technological developments and the environmental impacts,” he said.
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“This is a pioneering region in terms of energy development in the country, we will keep those workers here so people can keep shopping in the supermarkets, keeping this region growing and richer.”
Research centres had already been established or were being developed in the United States, Europe and the Australian and Hughes said New Zealand had a chance to export the “smart tech” if it was developed.
Regional Research Institutes are funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment through a contestable process and the Green Party has already suggested building a high-tech wood manufacturing institute at a cost of $8m.
“National wants to set up a coal mining Regional Research Institute on the West Coast but the Greens would target regional economic development funding towards investing in clean, sustainable industries like marine energy and wood and forestry,” Hughes said.
“This is what a sustainable economy looks like: government backing businesses to innovate, creating jobs in the regions, and supporting projects that work with the environment, not against it.”
Hughes said if the Green Party was to get into government it would hold a specific contestable funding round to choose which part of New Plymouth it would be based in and the partners involved.
Wave converters have been tried in Taranaki before.
In 2010 Crown Research Institute IRL and Wellington based company Power Projects Limited were give permission to place a wave convertor several kilometres offshore of the Waitara River mouth. The trial converter had the potential to produce 20 kilowatts of power at its peak.
In 2009 Power Projects received a grant of $760,000 from the government for their research into wave converters and in 2013 returned from a testing stint off the Oregon coast in the United States, before heading to its final test in Hawaii.
In July last year, physical oceanographer at MetOcean Solutions Dr Severin Thiebaut said while there had been good intentions to harness energy from Taranaki’s powerful west coast waves, there were still no commercial devices available to utilise it.
“Everybody keeps hoping clean renewable tidal and wave energies will be the future of ocean energy,” he said at the time.
“There are many wave energy devices being tested, but there’s very few of them commercially available.”