Meridian withdraws its application

By Jenny Baker

ECO welcomed the decision of Meridian Energy to withdraw its application for a dam on the Mohikinui River.

Meridian Energy initially received resource consent for the Mokihinui dam in April 2010 when the hearings committee found the issues difficult and the commissioners were split 2:1.

The Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird and others appealed the decision. The Appeal was expected to be heard in 2012.

Meridian had planned to build an 85 metre high dam on the West Coast’s largest river. More than 330 hectares of river gorge and forest will disappear under a 14 kilometre long artificial lake.

Forest and Bird's Top of the South Field Officer, Debs Martin, described the proposal as"the greatest inundation of conservation land for a hydro scheme that New Zealand has ever seen. It is a tragedy for the native blue ducks, giant land snails, long fin eels and other creatures that live in or beside the Mokihinui. They will be wiped out by Meridian Energy’s massive hydro dam flooding their homes.”

Meridian also needed the approval of the Minister of Conservation, Hon. Kate Wilkinson to build the dam because the river is on public conservation land. Meridian has offered to swap other land for that needed for the Mokihinui project. This land would need to be of equivalent (or greater) ecological value and the Department of Conservation has indicated that it would decline such an offer due to the irreplaceable value of the river.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act have revealed that DOC was intending to turn down Meridian and believed “the public conservation land within the Mokihinui River has such high value that it is most unlikely to be suitable for exchange at all.”

Forest & Bird ran a successful campaign to give New Zealanders the chance to urge Meridian Energy to withdraw its proposal.

One irony was that Meridian was a recent sponsor of Project Crimson but the Mokihinui project would have drowned the very rata forests it pledged to protect.

Although water may be renewable a wild river is definitely not.

The argument of proponents for the project is that the Mokihinui project is required to provide a growing demand for power on the West Coast. Such a demand, perceived or real, could be  satisfied by newly approved and more environmentally-friendly hydro projects.  Solid Energy withdrew its appeal in October 2010 to Hydro Developments Limited’s Stockton scheme. This project aims to generate power using polluted water from the acid drainage of the Stockton coal mining area and will actually enhance the water quality of the Ngakawau River.

Together with Westpower’s Amethyst scheme (south of Hokitika) and Trust Power’s Arnold scheme (near Greymouth) this would provide three consented and largely unopposed energy projects located in already-modified landscapes, unlike Meridian’s competing proposal in a pristine wilderness.

The current West Coast peak demand is about 90MW at present, and is projected to grow to 111MW by 2020.  The West Coast annual consumption is 317GWh (year of March 2009).

Current proposal of consented new supply of 46MW (190-220GWh) from the Arnold Scheme, 8MW (35GWh) from The Amethyst Scheme and 25MW (240GWh) from the Stockton, the West Coast would all but meet peak demand and exceed annual consumption to 2020. This meant that the West Coast did not need the Mohikinui dam.

Together with efficiency, conservation and co-generation initiatives to reduce demand we could look to a 21st century solution: localized, small-scale and genuinely renewable.

The decision by Meridian to withdraw this project could signal the end of large new hydro developments in New Zealand.  Earlier Contact Energy announced it was not proceeding with investigations for new power schemes on the Clutha River.

A combination of new geothermal projects in the North Island and wind power developments together with a decline in energy demand per capita means new renewables and energy efficiency should meet demand in the future.

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