In mid-2010, Solid Energy’s consent application was turned down by Commissioners acting for the Buller District and West Coast Regional Councils. The company appealed to the Environment Court, which has approved the scheme essentially as it was proposed.

“This is good news for Buller and the wider West Coast community,” said Barry Bragg, Solid Energy’s Chief Operating Officer. “It means there are now two consented hydro schemes which could be built, increasing the prospect of the Coast having a significant source of locally generated electricity. That would be good for the region providing security of supply and greater efficiency — being closer to the point of generation means fewer transmission losses which should result in lower prices for consumers.

“Solid Energy proposed this scheme because we think it’s the best way to realise the hydro potential of that area but at the time ensure we can carry out our main business at Stockton, mining high-quality coal for export, for the life of the resources there, which is at least another 20 years,” Bragg adds. “The environmental impact of this hydro scheme is extremely low in comparison to other generation options. It doesn’t involve damming large rivers, it sits alongside existing mine infrastructure and would actually support the mine’s programme by further improving the quality of water leaving the site.”

Bragg said having consent does not change the company’s understanding with the promoter of the second consented hydro scheme, West Coast company Hydro Developments Ltd (HDL), that its hydro proposal has first call on the Stockton water. HDL received its consents in early 2010 for a scheme harnessing the same water catchments as those proposed for the Solid Energy scheme. In October 2010 the two companies reached an agreement giving HDL access to the site to complete its investigations and a clear run to progress its scheme provided it did so in a timely manner.

Solid Energy’s second scheme would produce 195GWh/yr, sufficient to power 24,000 homes and enable the West Coast region to become a net exporter of electricity.