Meridian reaffirms plans to build dam

Environmentalists have appealed against resource consent for Mokihinui dam. Photo / Supplied
Environmentalists have appealed against resource consent for Mokihinui dam. Photo / Supplied

Meridian Energy says it remains committed to its proposed Mokihinui dam on the West Coast following its decision to pull the pin on a controversial $2 billion wind farm in Otago.

"Economically and viability-wise, it remains a very attractive project," Meridian water infrastructure development manager Nick Eldred said yesterday.

Meridian has been working on the Mokihinui project for six years - the same amount of time it spent on the wind farm plan.

Meridian chief executive Mark Binns said yesterday it was a "prudent commercial decision" to drop Project Hayes, because the company had other projects with a higher commercial priority.

Mr Eldred confirmed Mokihinui was one of those projects.

"Mokihinui is important strategically because of where it is on the Coast ... it's certainly well-placed economically as well, from that point of view. It remains an important part of our South Island options."

Meridian received resource consent for the Mokihinui dam from a Coast council hearing committee in April 2010.

The Department of Conservation (DoC), Forest and Bird, White Water New Zealand and the West Coast Environmental Network Trust subsequently appealed.

The Environment Court was expected to begin hearing the appeals this June, but Mr Eldred said the timetable had now been pushed to September to give the appellants more time to gather evidence.

Meridian had given its evidence to the appellants before Christmas. DoC and Forest and Bird still had wide-ranging concerns about the project, he said.

"We'll know more about that once they've had a chance to consider our evidence and we consider their evidence."

Environment Court judge Jane Borthwick wanted the court to consider only the key bones of contention, he said.

The hearing could take a few months, and there was no set time for the judge to write her decision.

Meridian had done more work on the environmental impact of the project.

"We really didn't change our opinion that we can address appropriately the issues associated with the project. We didn't really find anything that caused us to change the path we were on. That was a risk. We could have gone out there and done something that could change it, but it didn't," Mr Eldred said.

Work to date has included surveying vegetation, snails, birds, bats and lizards and resurveying the eroding Mokihinui coastline.

Mr Eldred said he was unsure how much Meridian had spent on the Mokihinui project. The dam is expected to cost more than $350 million to build and to produce about 100MW of power - enough for 50,000 homes or the West Coast's peak demand. Meridian estimates construction will employ 310 people and take about three years.


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