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Coasters Threaten To Ditch Labour Over Dobson Hydro Plan – Anger Over Scheme Rejection                 Chris Mole - Associate Editor

June 16, 2004

The Govt faces a backlash from West Coast voters over its refusal to reconsider TrustPower’s proposed Dobson hydro station near Greymouth. Buller Mayor Pat O’Dea believes the Govt’s stance on the Dobson scheme may be the last straw for many voters in the traditional Labour stronghold, who feel they’re "not getting a fair go."   

West Coast councils and industry, with the backing of Grey Power and National MP Nick Smith, have launched a campaign to urge the Govt to rethink its rejection four years ago of the 62MW Dobson development, claiming it is the best option to ease the national grid crisis in the upper SI. O’Dea believes the West Coast economy is at risk and investors will shun the region if there’s no certainty of electricity of supply.

TrustPower Community Relations Manager Graeme Purches says the company predicted the national grid problems in late 1999, when it mooted the $120m Dobson scheme on the Arnold River, but no one wanted to listen. "If we had been able to proceed four years ago, the scheme would be up and running now and we wouldn’t have an upper SI power problem." Purches believes the project should have been allowed to proceed through the resource consent process, so it could have stood or fallen on its merits.

Instead, the Govt stepped in and quashed it, after environmentalists objected because of the land’s high conservation status. The scheme would create a 500ha storage lake, flooding three valleys in the Kaiata Range, including part of Card Creek Ecological Area, using water diverted by a canal system from the Arnold River. Purches believes the Dobson scheme "makes such good sense that it must happen eventually."

Not only would it make the West Coast self-sufficient in electricity but it would also reduce line losses between the southern hydro lakes and the upper SI, easing pressure on the national grid. And with plenty of rain on the Coast, there would be no problems with low lake levels.

Purches sees a groundswell of political support building for the scheme, with National, Act, United Future and NZ First supporting it. "It’s only Labour and the Greens who are against it and I think there’s actually a good number of Labour MPs who support it." Conservation Minister Chris Carter says the Dobson scheme cannot legally proceed because it involves part of the Card Creek ecological area, protected by the Muldoon Govt more than 20 years ago.

TrustPower has offered to compensate by putting 720ha at nearby Mt Buckley into conservation estate - a trade Carter believes does not match the conservation values of Card Creek. West Coast Labour MP Damien O’Connor says he will support the Dobson scheme if a "suitable" land swap deal can be found.  

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