New Zealand’s largest power generator, Meridian Energy, has announced it is investigating the hydro generation and irrigation potential of the Lower Waitaki River, claiming it could produce hydro power for about US$.02 a KWh or less.

‘That’s significantly lower than an equivalent combined cycle plant,” said Meridian chief executive Keith Turner.

Other industry players have said a new hydro power project would cost US$.04 to US$.06 KWh.

‘I’m delighted to be able to tell you that everyone who has speculated about the cost of hydro is completely wrong,’ added Turner. ‘The price of power from this scheme is exteremely attractive against our projections of market prices.’

The $970M scheme, named Project Aqua, has the potential for up to 3200 GWh of electricity and nearly39,000 hectares of new irrigation along a 62km canal, incorporating six power stations on the south bank of the river.

It also has the ability to help meet New Zealand’s future energy without emitting carbon dioxide, unlike thermal power stations, said Meridian. At full development it could mean a production offest of CO2 of about 1.2 million tonnes per year. It will also produce significantly less CO2 than building wind farms to produce the same annual energy.