Mokihinui hydro project lamented

The conservation lobby has hailed Meridian Energy's decision to quit the controversial Mokihinui hydro project on the West Coast, but some Buller people are lamenting a lost opportunity.

Buller District Mayor Pat McManus said it was not just the potential for more than 400 jobs associated with the $350 millon project that had disappeared, but also cheaper power for the West Coast's electricity-hungry coal, goldmining and dairy sectors.

The West Coast, with 30,000 people, faced a growing risk of losing its power supply, because eventually there would probably be a problem with the ageing transmission lines that supplied electricity to the region from the main grid.

"It's not just about the jobs during the construction or how many will be employed later on, it's about reliability and the safety margin in our power supply. We're at the end of the line," McManus said.

"Buller people pay more than the average New Zealander for their power."

Meridian said yesterday that it would not proceed with the project planned for the Mokihinui River, north of Westport, citing high costs and risks surrounding a scheme that encroached on environmentally sensitive land.

The project had been withdrawn from the Environment Court process, said Meridian chief executive Mark Binns.

The Conservation Department and other groups had appealed against the decision granting resource consent for Meridian's project.

An 85 metre-high dam, upstream of Seddonville, would have created a 14 kilometre-long lake and generated up to 360 gigawatt hours of electricity a year.

Environmental groups, including Forest & Bird, and the Green Party welcomed the end of the plan.

Forest & Bird spokeswoman Debs Martin said the Mokihinui was one of New Zealand's most pristine wild rivers and home to endangered blue ducks, eels and native fish.

The forested river valley supported kiwis and bats.

Binns said the decision was difficult but followed a full risk review.

New Zealand's largest generator would now have to look elsewhere for projects, particularly wind farms, because "water is a very emotional topic".

About $18m had been spent to get the project this far and it would have cost millions more to get it through the Environment Court hearings.

Although Binns was confident of getting a court OK for the dam, he was not as confident of getting the right ticks from DOC and the Government, because Meridian would have needed land access under the Conservation Act.

The Press