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Hydro Potential Tantalises Power Companies - But Govt Sends Mixed Messages    Chris Mole - Associate Editor

NZ has about 2500MW of untapped hydro-generation potential – enough to meet the country’s anticipated needs for the next decade and beyond. A report for the Ministry of Economic Development has identified 65 hydro projects already on the drawing board, which could potentially be built in the next 20 years.

Wellington consultants East Harbour Management Services presented the report in January but it only came to public attention a few days ago when Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons expressed concerns about its environmental implications. Fitzsimons believes the report is “designed to help fast-track proposals under the national-importance criteria in the RMA.”

But power companies with hydro schemes in the pipeline, which are being stymied by the RMA and other environmental considerations, are not getting over-excited about the report, which doesn’t tell them anything new. Their frustration is compounded because Govt Ministers seem to be sending mixed messages - Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton is upbeat about the potential for more hydro development while Energy Minister Pete Hodgson is playing down the report.

Anderton has slammed Fitzsimons for her “intemperate comments” opposing hydro generation. He says the report is part of “a large body of empirical and analytical research” by the Govt into how NZ can meet its future electricity needs. “Only the anti-developmental strategy espoused by the Green Party could possibly be opposed to research and evidenced-based attempts to constructively meet that challenge.”

But Hodgson stresses the report “simply defines potential” and doesn’t mean the rivers identified will be developed for hydro-power. He points out the Govt has also identified NZ’s coal reserves but “there are no plans to dig it all up and burn it tomorrow.” TrustPower, which has two hydro schemes on the drawing board – on the Dobson and Wairau rivers - both of which face strong opposition from environmentalists, is not reading too much into the report.

Community Relations Manager Graeme Purches says it identifies opportunities “but the problem is to turn them into reality” – and this won’t happen without significant changes to the RMA to give greater weighting to projects of national and regional importance. Purches is also frustrated by differing messages coming from Govt departments.

He believes DoC, the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Energy need to “sit around the table and work together” to give a consistent message on hydro development. The East Harbour Management Services report - Identification of Potential Hydroelectric Resources - includes only hydro projects the authors consider “achievable.”

The report at: http://www.med.govt.nz/ers/environment/water-bodies/hydro-resources/index.html                                        

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