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N.Z. utility wins water resource consents for 260-MW Lower Waitaki

New Zealand generator Meridian Energy Ltd. (MEL) received four water resource consents December 2 for the proposed North Bank Tunnel Concept, which would divert water from the Lower Waitaki River for a hydroelectric project of between 210 MW and 260 MW.

A hearing panel of Environment Canterbury granted resource consents allowing the utility to divert, take, use, and discharge water from the Waitaki under the North Bank Tunnel Concept (NBTC). (HNN 8/14/07) The panel issued an interim decision subject to parties reconvening December 16-17 to complete some outstanding consent conditions. However, the panel made it clear the follow-up meeting was not to allow parties to derail the process.

"We wish to make it quite clear that this short hearing is to be restricted to dealing with matters relating to the conditions," the panel said. "It is not an opportunity for any party including MEL to address any of the substantive issues upon which we have now made findings and reached conclusions. Consequently we do not expect this hearing to be of interest to those parties who are opposed to NBTC."

More than 430 parties had submitted information to the panel.

The North Bank Tunnel Concept features a 34-kilometer tunnel along the Waitaki between Waitaki Dam and Stonewall, with an underground powerhouse.

With consents allowing access to the water, Meridian now can plan the project in detail and seek resource consents to excavate and build the tunnel and power station. Meridian previously said it adopted a staged approach to its filing to ensure sufficient water is available before it invests millions of dollars on detailed engineering investigations. Additionally, it wanted to ensure the community had time to understand and comment on the concept.

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. Meridian said it learned important lessons from the Project Aqua effort and made significant modifications to its proposal including water sharing provisions, a tunnel-based proposal that minimizes many effects on the area, and consultation with affected parties.

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