By JO-MARIE BROWN

A company seeking permission to build a geothermal power station near Taupo says it should be given the go-ahead to help avoid an electricity supply crisis.

Geotherm Group, run by a family-based trust, wants to construct a $250 million power station above the Wairakei geothermal field.

Its lawyer, Colin Keating, yesterday said it would be in the country's best interests if the project were granted resource consent as it would "help keep the lights on".

While outlining Geotherm Group's proposal at the beginning of a three-week resource consent hearing in Taupo, Mr Keating said the demise of Project Aqua had made New Zealand's looming energy crisis much more acute.

He urged those presiding over the hearing to focus on the big picture.

"The contribution that a new geothermal energy project [would make], adding up to 60 megawatts to the electricity 'capacity gap', is a factor that deserves extra special weight at this time in our history."

The depletion of the Maui gasfield and the fact that financial penalties would be imposed under the Kyoto Protocol if coal were used to generate electricity meant that geothermal energy must be exploited more in future.

"Not allowing [Geotherm's power station] would mean that the 'capacity gap' will widen," he said.

"You have before you an important new application to use a renewable source of energy to generate electricity which can make a significant contribution to the national and local interest."

While the Resource Management Act was one of the many reasons given for Project Aqua's collapse, Mr Keating was upbeat about the hearing process.

"There is an opportunity with the Geotherm application to show that the RMA can work, that it can overcome the complaints about it and that it is still possible for a new medium-size power project, utilising renewable resources, to get approval."

Meanwhile, Contact Energy is also applying for resource consent to continue operating its power plant above the Wairakei field.

Its application has been partly heard and met fierce opposition from locals, who blame geothermal extraction for subsidence problems in Taupo.

Geotherm's proposal has not ruffled local feathers to the same extent - 14 people lodged submissions against the application, compared with 197 submissions opposing Contact's plans.

Mr Keating argued yesterday that Geotherm Group's proposal was sustainable and would not harm the environment. Unlike Contact, the company planned to re-inject virtually all of the fluid it took back into the geothermal field, thereby preventing subsidence.

Mr Keating said that evidence would be presented to show that the Wairakei field could cope if both Contact and Geotherm were granted resource consent to draw fluid from it.


THE PLAN

Geotherm Group is seeking resource consent to build a 60-megawatt geothermal power station near Taupo.

The station will cost $250 million and produce enough electricity to power a city roughly the size of Hamilton.

The company is arguing the project should be approved to help New Zealand avert a future power crisis.


Herald Feature: Electricity

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