Numbers make scheme 'cash positive'

By Sophie Price

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Part of the audience at a presentation by HBRIC, Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company, to a meeting of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.
Part of the audience at a presentation by HBRIC, Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company, to a meeting of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.

The Ruataniwha dam has enough water users signed up to make the scheme "cash positive", with the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company signing more than 42 million m3 of water.

Presenting to a public gallery packed full of farmers, the investment company's board members were upbeat.

"We believe that we are in a position where we will have the support of other investors to reach financial close on the basis of the uptake levels that we have achieved," board chairman Andy Pearce said.

"There is sufficient water sign up for the scheme to be cash positive."

The company's chief executive, Andrew Newman, made it clear they were asking the regional council not to approve this condition precedent of the project, but rather to just receive their report.

"We have the numbers to proceed," Mr Newman said.

He told the council that 196 water users had signed up to 42.8 million m3 of water, and the company had a further 3 million m3 "in an advanced stage of negotiation".

He said the number of contracts signed demonstrated the strong farmer commitment to the $333 million project - New Zealand's largest ever water storage scheme.

Council chairman Fenton Wilson said the news hadn't sunk in yet.

"I am still a bit staggered. It was an incredible day really," he said.

"The fact that the farming community galvanised themselves behind it and are in behind it bodes well."

Explaining the much talked about "magic" 45 million m3 figure attached to the water uptake, Mr Wilson said it was comprised of a mixture of new water, converted water and deep ground water.

"It is just a place [the water uptake figure] where the uptake takes it to a cash positive place," he said.

"We were told today 42.8 million m3 so that has sort of put a based on the current contracted uptake that was seen as the number that was relevant today."

Deputy chairwoman Christine Scott said it was very positive news but "we are not there yet".

CHB councillor Debbie Hewitt said "today is the day that the Central Hawke's Bay community has spoken".

Councillor Peter Beaven said while the scheme had been "incredibly controversial", it was always going to come down to farmers signing on the dotted line.

"They have demonstrated that they are prepared to do that so I congratulate all of you on your efforts on getting this project over what is probably its most difficult hurdle," he said.

Fellow councillor Tom Belford said he continued to have "pretty significant doubts" about the environmental and economic benefits of the scheme and "any number of aspects of the process itself that's been followed".

"[However] what I have the most respect for is the decision that 196 farmers have made for themselves and their lives and their businesses. I can't take any exception with that at all," he said.

Mr Wilson said while the news was "very satisfying", the information had to be tempered with the fact the council still had to make a decision on this condition precedent. In regards to the conditions precedent, the water uptake was one of four that must be met for the scheme to proceed. Mr Wilson said a special meeting might be called to deal with them, but this would come on the advice of council staff.

In a post meeting interview, Mr Newman said while his team had more work to do, the fundamentals of a core customer base and subsequent cash flow for the scheme was very clear. "While I don't underestimate the amount of work we have got to get through yet, it's hugely advanced today," he said.

Mr Newman said he was confident HBRIC would "get there" and that the investor would announce when ready.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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