Expansion could draw more firms
Top Energy is planning to expand its Ngawha geothermal electricity generation in a move it says could attract businesses and create around 200 new jobs in the Kaikohe area.
It could produce enough electricity to power every household in the Far North and to export power south to the rest of Northland.
Supporters of the plan, including local and central government politicians, are hoping Top Energy's plans will lead to economic growth on the back of cheaply-produced, renewable power or heating, affordable land for industrial development and a ready workforce.
Top Energy chief executive Russell Shaw said the company had been carrying out scientific research and modelling since 2007 to understand how much geothermal resource might be available for generating electricity or heat for an industrial process.
"Although we will not know exactly what we have until we explore through test drilling, we believe there could be enough resource for an additional 100MW of energy," Mr Shaw said.
"We're working closely with the Far North District Council to attract an industry that could use the additional electricity or alternately direct use of heat from the geothermal fluid.
"Industries like wood processing, dairy processing and aquaculture use significant amounts of heat for their industrial processes in addition to electricity to power their operations. Just one of these production plants could create as many as 200 new jobs in the immediate area."
Sonny Tau, chairman of Kaikohe-based iwi authority Te Runanga o Ngapuhi, declined to comment on Maori aspirations or concerns regarding the Ngawha thermal resource.
Northland National MP Mike Sabin said he was excited about the mid and Far North's prospects due to the possible "very, very effective and efficient and arguably cheaper energy resource".
"It could be a circuit-breaker, it could underpin real economic growth in Northland. If that comes on tap, and it could happen relatively quickly, it very quickly changes the game."
Mr Sabin said that at different times he had taken the Prime Minister John Key and fellow MPs Phil Heatley and Hekia Parata, in their former capacities as Energy Ministers, to Ngawha to show an example of Northland's potential.
Far North Mayor John Carter and Northland Regional Council chairman Bill Shepherd both said they were hopeful that Top Energy's test drilling would prove expansion was viable.
Mr Shaw said Top Energy owned most of the land needed for the new development at its existing power station site near Ngawha Springs village and a recently-acquired new site between Remuera Settlement Rd and State Highway 12.