A $300-million geothermal power station expansion near Kaikohe that could provide all the Far North's electricity needs will go ahead after an appeal to the Environment court over the plan was dropped.
Lines company Top Energy was this given a green light in September to build two new geothermal power plants at Ngawha Springs, boosting its output from the current 25MW to 75MW - more than the Far North's peak demand of 70MW. But the consent was appealed by Parahirahi C1 Trust, which is the kaitiaki (guardian) of the nearby Waiariki hot springs and manages a hot pool complex on trust-owned land and Crown land at Ngawha the Waitangi Tribunal has recommended be returned to Maori.
However, yesterday the two parties announced they had reached an agreement and the appeal had been dropped to allow the scheme to go ahead. The project will make the Far North a power exporter and, thanks to surplus heat and steam, could attract industries such as milk and timber processing to an area starved of jobs.
Top Energy has made concessions to the group and agreed not to cause or contribute to any adverse effects on the pools and the company will provide funding support for the development of Nga Waiariki pools area which are a popular tourist destination and a valuable local resource for the community.
Top Energy's chief executive Russell Shaw said concerns raised by Parahirahi C1 Trust have been addressed and a joint consent order was filed with the Environment Court.
"This meant that there was no further opposition to the plans and the resource consents for the expansion of the power station were granted," Mr Shaw said.
"It is a major step in securing a resilient and reliable power supply for the people of the Far North as well as reinforcing the power supply in the North Island following the closure of the gas and coal plants in south Auckland and the Waikato."
Mr Shaw acknowledged the efforts of the trust to work with the company to resolve concerns arising from the proposals. "We fully appreciate the cultural significance of the area and are committed to working with the trust to ensure the sustainable management of the geothermic reservoir," he said.
Parahirahi C1 Trust chairman, Te Tuhi Robust described the agreement as an excellent outcome which provides more gains around technical issues within the consent. "There is nothing within the agreement that sits at odds with the law or cultural integrity for us. We believe it reflects a willingness and commitment from Top Energy to work with our community and people," Dr Robust said.
As part of the agreement, Top Energy has agreed not to cause or contribute to any adverse effects on the pools, which will require an independent monitoring programme to monitor fluids reinjected into the reservoir, including controls on the contents of that fluid to eliminate waste, and to ensure reinjection procedures reflect best practice.
Another condition is the appointment of a kaitiaki advisor who will advise an independent peer review panel and who will be consulted as part of Top Energy's cultural indicators monitoring programme. In addition, Top Energy will also support the trust in undertaking an annual independent scientific audit.
The first of the new 25MW power stations could be producing power by 2020 which coincides with the closure of the Genesis Energy coal generation plants at Huntly. "We're really keen to replace them with clean, green energy. It means we'll be self-sufficient with renewable energy with the potential to bring more industry into the district," Mr Shaw said.