Project Aqua is a proposed hydroelectric scheme with a 60km canal with six hydro power stations, two outfalls and new HV transmission lines. It would run along the south side of the lower Waitaki Valley, from an intake at Kurow to an outfall 6km from the coast.

The announcement signals the start of a comprehensive legal process under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). Project Aqua is the biggest consent process to be dealt with under this legislation.

Meridian Energy has applied to the Otago Regional Council and Environment Canterbury for the required resource consents under the Resource Management Act. The company also requires a designation in the Waitaki and Waimate District Plans.

‘[The] announcement is the result of expert investigations and communication and consultation with key communities. The application and supporting technical reports total 55 volumes – that is around 7500 pages. That gives you a clear idea of the scale of the proposal and the work that has been done to date,’ said Meridian Energy chief executive, Dr Keith Turner.

‘Meridian Energy has made a significant financial investment in the investigation stage of Project Aqua and many changes have been made to the proposal as a result of the investigations, communication and consultation. As part of this process, Meridian Energy has investigated issues around mitigation for potentially affected parties.’

Project Aqua would have the capacity to produce 524MW of renewable electricity. It would also meet about one-third of the Government’s long-term strategy for increased renewable generation. Meridian Energy has recognised that new sources of energy need to be identified, as energy conservation is not enough on its own to meet the increasing demand for electricity in a growing economy.

The project comes with a price tag – initial estimates are that it could cost around $1.2Bfor Project Aqua to become a reality.

‘It must be economically viable. As a state-owned enterprise, Meridian Energy has responsibilities to the Crown – and therefore to all New Zealanders. That is one of the reasons behind the decision to form an alliance to deliver the project as it will be motivated to make the project economic so it can proceed,’ said Turner.

Construction will likely involve a workforce of between 400 and 700 and it is expected to take at least six years to complete the project. Some power stations would come on-line during the construction phase.

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