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Treelords deal leads to power plant plan

Last updated 07:15 29/06/2009

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Maori are looking to create a $2 billion geothermal power generation company off the back of this week's $500 million Central North Island Treelords settlement.

Consultants employed to investigate business opportunities by the eight iwi involved in the deal say Maori could be responsible for generating 10 to 20 per cent of New Zealand's electricity within five to 10 years.

The consultants, led by former Treasury adviser Pelenato Sakalia, based assessments on untapped geothermal resources beneath the 170,000 hectares of forest land around Lake Taupo and in Bay of Plenty which is part of the deal.

The total forest land to be handed over including the Kaingaroa, Waimihia, Crater, Horohoro, Pureora South, Taurewa and Whakarewarewa forests represents an area about 20 times the size of Wellington Harbour.

The deal also involves about $280 million to be divvied among the eight iwi from Crown Forestry Rental Trust bank accounts.

The official handover ceremony for the largest Treaty settlement will be held at Ngati Tuwharetoa's Waihi Marae on the south-western shore of Lake Taupo on Saturday.

In a report published by the CNI group, the consultants said annual cashflow returns of $170m to $200m a year from a CNI Maori power company were achievable.

For Maori to enjoy the projected windfall, they would need to take a CNI collective key ownership role rather than being dominated by existing geothermal power company generators such as Mighty River Power or Contact Energy in joint ventures, the consultants say.

"Research indicates there is 0.5 gigawatt undeveloped geothermal generation capacity beneath iwi-owned land in the CNI.

"This 0.5GW alone could supply approximately 8 per cent of New Zealand's future power demand," the report stated.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee said he would welcome Maori investment in the geothermal sector if that was how they wanted to invest settlement money.

"The geothermal resource is far from fully utilised on the North Island central plateau."

Power companies Mighty River Power which already has four joint venture agreements with Maori and Contact Energy are lining up wanting to speak with the soon-to-be cashed-up geothermal resource-owning Maori.

Mighty River chief executive Doug Heffernan said Maori wanted to invest in power companies.

"We understand the CNI settlement will escalate the level of interest in looking at co-ownership models. We are very open to those discussions."

Contact Energy spokesman Jonathan Hill said his company would also like to discuss joint-venture proposals with Maori resource owners.

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Maori are already key players in geothermal generation, with the biggest operator being the Taupo-based Tuaropaki Power Company, which has a 75 per cent share in the 113MW Mokai station. Mighty River has a 25 per cent share.

The Tauhara North No2 Trust has a quarter share in the $450m 32MW Nga Awa Purua geothermal power station, under construction 14km north of Taupo.

Trust chief executive Aroha Campbell said she had had recent discussions with CNI representatives.

"We were happy to talk with the CNI people. We all need to work together to make it happen."

CNI representatives including Tuwharetoa chief Tumu te Heuheu and George Asher could not be reached for comment. Mr Asher, a key figure in the settlement negotiations, is chief executive of Lake Taupo Forest Trust.

- The Dominion Post

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