Nine years after Westpower first proposed a hydro-electricity scheme on the Waitaha River, the Department of Conservation (DoC) said today it had given approval in principle.
DoC is now seeking public feedback on its decision to grant a concession for 49 years, subject to a number of special conditions.
The department noted this is not the final decision to grant the concession - the final decision will be made after submissions close.
The proposal is for a run-of-river scheme, with no need for a dam. A weir and diversion structure will be constructed at the upstream end of Morgan Gorge, at the head of the Waitaha Valley. A 2km access road, powerhouse and tunnel will also be built.
Water will be diverted into the power scheme tunnel at the head of Morgan Gorge, and returned 2.6km downstream, below the proposed powerhouse.
Westpower chief executive Rob Caldwell said the approval in principle recognised the importance of renewable energy schemes locally and nationally.
"Importantly, it shows that small footprint run-of-the-river schemes are able to be built in a manner that minimises potential effects," Caldwell said.
"There is still a way to go before we have all of the approvals to commence the build phase, but this is the first and most important step. We welcome the opportunity for the community to have its say in respect of the scheme through the public notification process."
The scheme will be predominantly on stewardship land managed by DoC.
It will produce 110 to 120GW of electricity a year - enough to power about 12,000 households. The footprint will be 4.94 ha.
The DoC report flags a number of issues and says bat roost trees should be avoided, with no felling in winter when bats are hibernating.
It also said that because freshwater conservation values would be affected, it recommended "compensatory measures" with the figure of $100,000 a year suggested.
The intake weir should allow whio (blue duck) access but if this is not feasible, long-term predator control commitments or a Westpower-funded captive bred blue duck programme is suggested.
A section of the river route to allow kayakers to access the bottom of Morgan Gorge should be re-trained and there should be safe foot access around the weir for re-entry into the river and to allow for the rescue of kayakers.
Kayakers had argued there would be 100% loss of the resource. Westpower in turn offered to provide real-time flow data and camera footage of the Waitaha River on its website.
DoC also said its consultant agreed that the effects on landscape character should be considered 'moderate'.
Ngati Waewae was happy with the application and that any concerns had been addressed directly with the applicant, while Makaawhio had given its support to the proposal.
Public submissions close on November 14.
- Greymouth Star