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Wind Farms Need Mines

Written By: - Date published: 9:57 am, October 21st, 2022 - 32 comments
Categories: climate change, energy, Environment, Mining, science - Tags:

We need more mines if we are to transition to low carbon.

There’s a field of industry that National and Labour could readily agree to if they put their minds to it, and it’s one of the highest paid industries in the world: mining.

Electric cars, wind turbines and solar panels are made with a wide variety of minerals from graphite to tellurium currently only available in a few corners of the world.

Some of these minerals are not mined enough to feed a world powered without fossil fuels: lithium is the biggest ingredient for electric cars and other battery-reliant products.

One form of mining is in extraction from geothermal plants. The New Zealand government has put $15m of funding into one effort.

It’s not the dusty-trousered pick-axe brigade of old, but producing lithium from a geothermal liquid is a sound way to supply lithium battery demands for electric vehicles as well as low carbon electricity from geothermal.

Dominion Salt hasn’t yet pushed to extract lithium from its salt evaporation facility, but it has taken the step of a Tesla powerpack to push it along.

Both National and Labour could easily agree that generating more and stronger local business is both good for local wealth circulation and growth, and also good for local resilience in the face of more global shock events to our supply chain. There are no signs that the international trade stability of the early 2000s is ever coming back.

For four decades following the prior international shock of World War 2, New Zealand saw many new factories producing goods like fork lift trucks, water jet engines, forage harvesters, Axminster carpets, wallpaper, aluminium sheet and foil, wood screws, glucose, dextrose, instant coffee, and of course fuel in the form of CNG and ammonia. It didn’t all work, but where markets fail the nation must sustain its people, and right now international trade is in serious trouble.

Of course innovation moves on and many new Teslas have batteries without nickel or cobalt, so we are still in a high change wave of decarbonised innovation that will last for years.

A particular problem is the life of wind farms, from which much is expected in future years in offshore mega-farms. At the moment about 95% of the components required to make a wind farm – outside of materials required to make the connecting roads – are imported.

The issue is that wind turbines only last at best 25 years. And New Zealand makes almost none of the components here. Every breakdown requires months of shipping to repair. The new blades are 55-75 metres long so they can’t be flown in.

New Zealand trades on its untouched landscapes and the Green Party have proposed banning all mining on the conservation estate and proposed a law to specify that.

That is, it ensures that New Zealand will never be able to form its own renewable minerals to form the components that could make our own carbon neutral energy production and transport.

It will likely be up to the next government to determine whether mining remains a feasible activity. We prefer to offshore our conscience rather than face the balance of needs that onshore mining and componentry forces upon us. It’s a bankrupt position on multiple fronts.

It is certainly a dilemma to mine in otherwise untouched landscapes to reduce greenhouse gases, only to create new pollution problems from a sector that by its nature carries the risk of environmental hazards. Our national track record on good mining practices isn’t historically great.

In the United States, President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act has accelerated this debate with the need for domestically produced or processed minerals has become a concrete requirement. This law tied a US$7,500 tax credit for buying an electric car to the origins of the vehicles’ parts: the US or a country with a US Free Trade Agreement, and not a single part made in China or Russia. You can thank the West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin for this specific requirement.

Imagine if all the lithium for all the car batteries or bus or train batteries sold here had to come from Lake Grassmere. Finally, resilience.

That US law also gave a 10% tax break to anyone digging up rocks for green tech manufacturers. The Pentagon got US$500 million for mining. Imagine NZDF getting money to procure all aluminium parts here.

Any good miner will start at $80k here, and an A Grade tunneller can just ask for what he (it’s a 99% male job) wants and remain very, very globally in demand.

We would likely have the same contests about the reality that delicate ecosystems and native peoples will react very badly unless they are cut in on the deal. In Nevada, two large lithium projects are in trouble about endangered specieswater use, and indigenous rights.

A broader mining boom even with the most green of national policy intention would see these conflicts play out on a national scale. The state-practised instrument to assuage Maori concerns for resource allocation be it air rights, broadcast rights, fish, health, or water, is to simply cut them into the deal. Everyone wins.

A typical example of this resource potential is found in the West Coast lands review where minerals such as nickel, cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements have already been assessed by GNS Science, and yes much of that potential lies in the conservation estate. There’s not much excuse for coal mining anywhere in New Zealand anymore. The Meremere Power Station fired by an enormous pulley system straight to coal mines in the swamps of the North Waikato is a sepia-tinted memory. And there’s too many dead men in coal mines to ever make it worthwhile again.

But it would be worth retaining the case-by-case approach that allows for alternative uses on conservation land to be assessed on their merits, irrespective of the conservation land category.

We sold off the Marsden Point oil refinery long ago, and now it’s closed down. Every litre is important and we are more reliant on it than ever. We need to turn the national conversation to what happens when we close down the use of petrol and diesel altogether: within a decade there will be few companies still making those engines, so what will we do then when all our electric car batteries need replacing?

How many mines will New Zealand need for the climate?

Well Benchmark Minerals did a study and found for all those electric vehicles and storage batteries with today as a standpoint, the global answer is 336 new mines by 2035.

Who knows maybe Cobalt can be finessed out of the picture.

But the New Zealand course is clear: we are supposed to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050.

We need the power and the parts to do this and we don’t currently have it. In part because we don’t have the minerals and components to make the stuff that will get us there.

There are some public funds available for proposals.

The boom in wind componentry is already requiring some regions to gear up fast. Currently there’s little direct local benefit – other than in aggregate to NZSuperFund.

If New Zealand is going to have sustainable in future, we are going to have to mine our way to it.

32 comments on “Wind Farms Need Mines ”

  1. Andy 1

    I'm not sure if this article is satire or not.

    You want a sustainable future based on mining for wind turbines that only last for 25 years?

    • Ad 1.1

      That's how long they last.

      And each foundation is bespoke.

    • Lanthanide 1.2

      Sounds like you're just starting to see one of the fundamental problems with the world's transition away from fossil fuels.

    • X Socialist 1.3

      Welcome to the real world, Andy. A place where some people have to turn other peoples idealistic imperatives into workable solutions.

      • bwaghorn 1.3.1

        Idealistic is probably the wrong word when our survival depends on finding a way.

        Fusion ,carbon capture and recycling are my picks for the food we must travel

    • Bearded Git 1.4

      My thoughts exactly Andy. I hope it is satire-digging up the conservation estate would be a massive step backwards.

      In any event we have Australia to do all the mining…plenty of lithium there.

      BTW Tesla is no longer the biggest player in EV's. BYD and other Chinese companies are rapidly taking over:

      "Top E-vehicle sales first half of this year versus last year: BYD: 640,748 and 15.4% share (vs 5.9%) Tesla: 564,873 and 13.6% share (vs 15.2%) SAIC (incl. SAIC-GM-Wuling): 358,040 and 8.6% share (vs 11.1%) Volkswagen Group: 331,743 and 8.0% share (vs 13.4%) Geely-Volvo: 231,232 and 5.6% share."

      SAIC are also Chinese-this means that just these two Chines companies now have 24% of the world market and this is rising quickly-there are several other smaller Chinese companies too not listed here.

      PS I can't remember the link where I found the above info…it was a few days ago as part of another conversation.

  2. arkie 2

    New Zealand trades on its untouched landscapes and the Green Party have proposed banning all mining on the conservation estate and proposed a law to specify that.

    The Greens are just trying to get Labour to do what it campaigned on. From you own link:

    The promise to ban new mines on conservation land was first made in the Speech from the Throne in 2017 but a lack of agreement between Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens meant it never came to fruition. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recommitted to it while campaigning in 2020, but despite Labour's majority, there's still no ban.


    This also about mines on conservation land, not mines in general. We don’t store all our minerals under national parks, it’s just cheaper for the private extractor companies to get access to crown-owned land.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    Wind turbines require huge amounts of copper. It has to be virgin copper because it needs to be very pure and it's currently not cost effective to recycle copper to the purity needed.

    Production of virgin copper requires large fossil fuel inputs at every step of production.

    • arkie 3.1

      Of course it does, the point of action around climate change is to reduce the amount of fossil fuels and non-renewables extracted as much as possible. The idea of offsets means the necessary uses of fossil fuels can be made neutral by carbon capture elsewhere.

      • Lanthanide 3.1.1

        You say "of course it does" as if it is common knowledge just how much copper each wind turbine needs, and that the fossil fuel intensity of creating a single wind turbine is well understood by everyone involved that is pushing for more wind turbines while also saying we need less fossil fuels – bit of a catch 22 if you can't have all the wind turbines you need while also decarbonising to the degree needed.

        This is an illustration of why weka says power down and accepting lower living standards is the only way out of our predicament.

        • arkie

          Of course it does to: Production of virgin copper requires large fossil fuel inputs at every step of production.

          As we breathe we produce greenhouse gases, we are all contributing by existing, the point is to lower our impact on the environment. That's going to mean much more work restoring and rejuvenating natural carbon sinks like swamp and marshlands as well as pursuing other sequestration methods.

          Lower living standards is a highly debatable term in this case. Isn't continuing the status quo with continued and irreversible climate change and sea rise locked-in also accepting lower living standards; for our children, all subsequent generations, as well as for all other forms of life on this planet?

          • Lanthanide

            Yes, those things will certainly result in lower living standards also.

            Really the point I'm getting at is that turkeys don't vote for Christmas. The electorate generally votes for politicians promising a brighter future, so political parties that want to speak the truth about our situation and the future looking dim aren't popular.

            • arkie

              Any supporter of the Greens is well aware of that. Activists, scientists and indigenous people have been trying to spur action for over 50 years now.

              Inaction appears to be largely driven by the profit motive and the degree to which politics is about preserving power relations.

              For example; electrified public transport, particularly trams and trains are much more efficient both in terms of lifelong emissions and in actually transporting people versus private EVs. It will always be necessary for some people to need a personal vehicle like a car or truck but it is evident that increasing the amount of well placed public transport infrastructure in places where we are concentrating people and businesses is the sensible and green idea. This was a common place understanding before the existing infrastructure was ripped up in favour of individual ICE vehicles in the mid-20th century. Neoliberal policies mean public transport must be profitable to be justified, but no public service can be run efficiently for profit. If public transport can be modernised, subsidised, made more reliable and extended to towns and cities people wouldn’t need to personally purchase a vehicle, no more maintenance and storage costs along with more walkable and green spaces; all that is an improved living standard.

              • Lanthanide

                Inaction appears to be largely driven by the profit motive and the degree to which politics is about preserving power relations.

                No, it's driven by people's self interest, as I just said – turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

                Given a choice between a lower standard of living – what is being offered by activists, scientists and indigenous people for 50 years now – and a higher standard of living, people will choose the higher standard of living.

                Evolutionarily humans are driven to want more, not less.

                • arkie

                  Lower standard of living in your opinion, and also that of those who advocate doing nothing or only insignificant things to change the fate of the planet; those that are self-interested in maintaining their financial and political power; those that are self-interested in the continued pursuit of profit at the cost of all life on this planet.

                  Your higher standard of living fatalistically locks-in the climate damage that will be firstly and mostly keenly felt by indigenous people. This is only a short-sighted self-interest, encouraged and made virtuous by a capitalist framing; to think this is evolutionarily derived and yet unchangeable is unscientific, ahistorical and nihilistic.

                  • Lanthanide

                    Lower standard of living in your opinion

                    Yes, just as you are saying that improved public transport is a higher standard of living. That's just like, your opinion, man.

                    Saying everyone should use public transport and it is a "higher standard of living" is ignoring other reasons for why people choose to buy private vehicles:

                    • Status, humans simply love showing off to other humans about how wealthy they are (another evolutionary adaptation)
                    • Convenience of having a vehicle always available
                    • Being able to store stuff in their vehicle for whenever they want it

                    There'll be many other reasons too, but those are the obvious big ones.

                    those that are self-interested in maintaining their financial and political power; those that are self-interested in the continued pursuit of profit at the cost of all life on this planet.

                    Yes, thank you for agreeing with me that it is driven by people's own self-interest. Companies are owned and operated by humans.

                    Your higher standard of living fatalistically locks-in the climate damage that will be firstly and mostly keenly felt by indigenous people. This is only a short-sighted self-interest, encouraged and made virtuous by a capitalist framing; to think this is evolutionarily derived and yet unchangeable is unscientific, ahistorical and nihilistic.

                    You seem to be of the impression that I am against doing anything about moving off fossil fuels – not true. I've built a passive house, am choosing not to have children and have bought an EV – next year we’re planning to add solar panels and a wood burner to the house.

                    My point is that society is in for a HUGE amount of pain because renewable energy etc cannot provide the number of people on this planet with the living standards they have come to take for granted due to fossil fuel use.

                    • arkie

                      Yes that’s why I said it was highly debatable @, and here we are, debating it.

                      I didn’t say everyone should use public transport, I said if we made it better people would have more incentive to use it over a personal EV. There would also be hire schemes, and taxis etc still; it’s about improving the balance of uses to prioritise maximum efficiency both in capacity and climate impact. Those are currently external from the current costs of our standard of living and any attempts to add them to the equations are opposed and defined by those who are benefiting from the current harmful accounting oversight.

                      That you are able to have a passive house and are adding renewable energy and heating to it is indeed admirable but the argument is that all houses should be built like that and it’s only because it’s cheaper under our current system (that ignores or externalises climate costs) that it isn’t. Because of the profit motive, the cost of living (a sinister phrase when we consider it) is applied to individuals and distributed unequally despite the fact that we are all living, and rely on each other and the planet to do so.

                      the living standards they have come to take for granted due to fossil fuel use.

                      The dispute over the quality of those standards aside, this is the same argument activists, scientists and indigenous people making for 50 years. That the argument is unpopular, and why, is largely irrelevant to the need for fossil fuel use to be dramatically reduced. If they had been listened to all those years ago much of what is locked-in could have be avoided and the shock and rapidity of the transition lessened.

                    • Lanthanide

                      That the argument is unpopular, and why, is largely irrelevant to the need for fossil fuel use to be dramatically reduced.

                      It's not at all irrelevant. If you don't know what motivates or concerns voters, you can't craft your message in a way that they can get on board with, and thus you make no progress.

                      Also I'd like to point out the many activists opposed nuclear energy, when it actually has a key role to play in any future where the standard of living remains above 1950s level.

                    • arkie

                      Change is coming even if we amend our fossil fueled ways now, delaying more drastic action only makes future climate change more severe. The profit motive and the preservation power relations has made this so. You call it self-interest, it's the same thing – sacrificing the future for the now.

                      The lack of urgency exhibited by industries and governments is also because of their continued profits; those in charge are largely insulated from the consequences of climate change by their disproportionate wealth.

                      The politics to remediate these problems are unsurprisingly unpopular; opposed as they are by these wealthy and powerful lobbies. It is they who define the terms in which we discuss the required actions society must make, characterising simple, effective and equitable alternatives to the continuation of the neoliberal status quo as lowering the standard of living; the same standard that locks-in significant future costs and disruptions to society.

                      It seems even those who take their own individual steps toward transition and resiliency are incapable of seeing the hollowness of standard of living based criticism of societal-scale moves.

    • X Socialist 3.2

      There's also the problem of recycling wind turbines themselves. First generation wind turbines cannot be easily recycled because of their composition. Hence many have wound up in landfills. Here we have another example of leaving a secure energy generation foothold before securing the next solid foothold in renewable energy. That leads to retrospective measure needing to be implemented to fix unforeseen problems that have arisen.


    • left for dead 3.3

      Yes,in fact some speculate, the world will need all the copper mined since day dot,within the next 30yr's.

    • Bearded Git 3.4

      Solar is taking over from wind Lanth. It is cheaper and compared with land based wind turbines has less environmental effect in terms of visibility and noise.

      I read somewhere that China intends to install the equivalent of 250 Clyde dams worth of solar NEXT YEAR alone.

  4. KJT 4

    Banning mining on conservation land, does not prevent mining elsewhere.

    Miners like conservation land because it is undervalued compared to non-conservation land so obtaining mining rights is cheaper. Nothing to do with the concentration of minerals.

    Complaining about resource use for more sustainable options, is a specious argument.

    Sure wind generation is not perfectly sustainable. Nothing is. Entropy always wins.

    Still many times more sustainable than fossil fuel energy.

    Reminds me of the "ships use fossil fuel too" argument from trucking advocates.

  5. pat 5

    Hoping against hope….we are not going to mine our way out of energy decline.

    There is only one path (by choice or imposed) ….reduction.

  6. Poission 6

    Germany underwrites 800m$ loan to trading house to provide non ferrous metals to German industry,

    To keep both lights on and industry running following the munting of the German energy sector by green policies,Germany will fire up 6.9gw of black coal and 1.9gw of lignite for the winter.

  7. Mike the Lefty 7

    Of course National could agree to some of this.

    But they won't because they are too busy making political capital out of diesel-guzzling Ford Ranger owners whinging about having to pay more for their fuel and their trophy vehicles.

  8. do not fret. the world is going to start de-populating shortly.

  9. Jenny are we there yet 9


    "New Zealand saw many new factories producing goods like fork lift trucks, water jet engines, forage harvesters, Axminster carpets, wallpaper, aluminium sheet and foil, wood screws, glucose, dextrose, instant coffee, and of course fuel in the form of CNG and ammonia." ADVANTAGE

    You left out the most important, most ubiquitous, most essential industrial revolution material of them all.. It is the single biggest component of wind turbines. It is also one we make here. It requires very little mining. Its raw material iron sand is abundant in the form of enormous drifts and dunes either side of Port Waikato. I am talking of course of Steel made from New Zealand iron sand & (unfortunately) imported Indonesian coal. Coal being the most climate devastating fossil fuel of them all.
    There are technologies for making steel without coal, maybe some investment could be made available for that.


    Coal Action Network Aotearoa

    24 Apr 2013 Jeanette Fitzsimons,

    In this article, Jeanette Fitzsimons considers an issue with very important implications for both the coal industry and the prospects of making major greenhouse gas emissions reductions: whether, and to what extent, we can make steel without using coal. We welcome your comments and feedback – please send your responses to [email protected].



    Worth a look?

  10. Yeah this green tech ain't so green when you consider all the industrial inputs. Nuclear is actually a greener option.

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