TrustPower update on hydro scheme

TrustPower land portfolio manager Adrian Wortman will update Wairau Valley landowners during the next three weeks on his company's plans to build a hydroelectric power scheme along the Wairau River.

TrustPower community relations manager Graeme Purches said Mr Wortman would tell farmers that the project was on the backburner, not cancelled, because of slowed growth in electricity consumption and rising development costs.

Mr Wortman would contact the 60 or so landowners affected by the proposed scheme, Mr Purches said.

TrustPower had bought land where structures such as a power station would be built and also land where stock from affected farms could be grazed during construction, he said.

Purchases ranged from working farms to small blocks, said Mr Purches.

The Marlborough Express understands the most recent purchase was made about 18 months ago.

In the meantime, land was being leased back to previous owners or nearby farmers.

Holding companies bought the land for TrustPower, Mr Purches said. The purchases showed up in TrustPower accounts as an investment in a holding company, avoiding complications such as having to declare or depreciate assets.

TrustPower was not interested in owning land long term, he said. In the meantime, blocks had been leased but long-term they would be sold.

Mr Purches would not say how much land had been purchased or give blocks' precise area.

This was because he did not want to encourage people to demand unrealistic prices for their land.

Some landowners who publicly objected to the scheme were asking for seven figure prices behind closed doors, said Mr Purches.

"Perhaps we would pay more than valuation so we can get the job done but not two to four times more than a property is worth."

TrustPower was not interested in properties it could bypass at a lesser cost than buying, said Mr Purches.

The Environment Court had not precisely specified where canals must be located so the company could apply to vary the route.

Mr Purches said if TrustPower ever took the path of applying to become an acquiring authority which could compulsorily acquire essential land, it would present these claims as "ridiculous" in court.

A requiring authority uses special provisions in the Resource Management Act to get Crown agreement to buy or take land on their behalf.

The authority must operate a service requiring development, including electricity lines and roads or pipes for water supply, drainage and sewage.

About four landowners remained adamantly opposed to the scheme, said Mr Purches. Many people were sitting back and waiting until construction was certain, before making a commitment.

Others had no problem with the scheme crossing their land.

The Marlborough Express