N.Z. utility applies for 260-MW Lower Waitaki water diversion

New Zealand generator Meridian Energy has applied to Environment Canterbury for permission to divert, use, and discharge water from the Lower Waitaki River for a proposed hydroelectric project of between 210 MW and 260 MW.

Meridian said October 13 it filed the first stage of resource consents for the proposed North Bank Tunnel Concept, which would feature a 36-kilometer tunnel along the Waitaki between Waitaki Dam and Stonewall, with an underground powerhouse.

The utility said it adopted a staged approach to the filing to ensure sufficient water is available before it invests millions of dollars on detailed engineering investigations. Additionally, it wants to ensure the community has time to understand and comment on the concept.

"With a potential generation capacity of 1,100 to 1,400 GWh, it remains one of the largest renewable generation opportunities available in New Zealand," Meridian Water Infrastructure Manager Tony McCormick said.

Environment Canterbury indicated hearings on the resource consent application might begin in October 2007.

Meridian testified last year before the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Board in a bid to reserve water for the project. The North Bank Tunnel Concept would occupy part of the area of a proposed 524-MW Project Aqua canal and powerhouse system that Meridian abandoned in 2004 due to uncertainty over obtaining water rights and resource consents.

For information, contact Tony McCormick, Meridian Energy, P.O. Box 2128, Christchurch, New Zealand; (64) 3-3579793; E-mail: tony.mccormick@meridianenergy.co.nz; Internet: www.meridianenergy.co.nz.

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