Meridian wins water rights for hydro project

FLEUR COGLE
Last updated 05:00 26/09/2009

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Meridian Energy has cleared the last significant hurdle to its $1 billion North Bank Tunnel Scheme on the Waitaki River.

The Environment Court has granted the power company interim rights to take the water it would need to run through a 34-kilometre hydro tunnel along the river's north bank from the Waitaki Dam to Stonewall.

Meridian spokesman Alan Seay said Meridian welcomed the news but recognised there was still work to be done.

The court required Meridian to work with other interested parties to find ways to mitigate some of the project's environmental impacts.

The decision said consent would be granted subject to further work to address management and mitigation issues in the areas of wetlands and braided-river birds.

"There are conditions in there that we need to understand fully," Mr Seay said.

Obtaining water rights is the first stage in the proposal. Meridian must now apply for land-use and construction consents.

The company expected it would take several years to complete the second phase of the project.

"It would be premature to talk about time-frames while we are still working through the details," Mr Seay said.

"We recognise that we have got to work in partnership with the local community and other interested groups," Mr Seay said.

Meridian had always tried to work with other groups to reach resolution.

The company was granted interim water rights in December last year, but several parties appealed those consents.

Of the five appeals initially lodged in the Environment Court, only the Lower Waitaki River Management Society continued on to a hearing. Meridian negotiated and reached deals with the Waitaki Protection Society, Ngai Tahu, Ngai Tahu-Mamoe Fisher People and private appellant farmer Garth Dovey before the 11-day hearing at the end of June.

Waimate deputy mayor Peter McIlraith said the court's decision was good for the district but he hoped the process would not drag on.

Meridian said the hydro tunnel could pour up to $349.8 million into South Canterbury, and provide a further $4.5m a year once operational.

HYDRO DEVELOPMENT

1935: Waitaki Dam commissioned.

1955: Tekapo A commissioned. 1965: Benmore commissioned.

1968: Aviemore commissioned.

1970s: A range of dam and canal options between Kurow and Black Point were considered, but abandoned because of cost, land loss and social and environmental problems.

1977: Tekapo B commissioned. 1980: Ohau A commissioned.

1984/1985: Ohau B commissioned.

1984/1985: Ohau C commissioned. 2001: Meridian unveils the $1.2 billion Project Aqua proposal.

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2004: Project Aqua is scrapped after a High Court decision highlighted significant uncertainties over water rights.

2005: Meridian unveils the $1b North Bank Tunnel Scheme.

December, 2008: ECan grants Meridian interim rights to take water from the Waitaki for the North Bank Tunnel Scheme.

June, 2009: Lower Waitaki River Management Society appeals resource consent granted to Meridian.

September, 2009: Meridian gets its water for the North Bank project.

NORTH BANK TUNNEL PLAN

The project will involve a 34-kilometre tunnel on land along the north bank of the Waitaki River, between the Waitaki Dam and Stonewall. It will generate an average of 1100-1400 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually enough to supply the equivalent of all the households in a city the size of Christchurch. Once Meridian's rights to divert, take, use and discharge water from the tunnel are finalised, the company will apply for resource management consents for land use and construction. If approved, construction of the scheme could start as early as 2012 and provide more than 400 jobs over at least seven years.

- The Timaru Herald

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