Disagreement over power control

Only a tiny percentage of the once mighty lower Waiau River remains as most is diverted into the Manapouri Power Scheme. Former Environment Southland staffer Claire Jordan resigned this year because the Water and Land Plan guaranteed Meridian Energy the right to renew its resource consent for the scheme in 2031. She said that meant the regional council could spend up to the next 50 years without being able to have a meaningful conversation with Meridian about how it uses the water. PHOTO: Helen Hall, Harley Photography


The latest iteration of the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan guarantees Meridian Energy the right to renew its resource consent for the Manapouri Power Scheme.

Meridian Energy's resource consent for the Manapouri Power Scheme has been changed to a controlled activity under the decisions version of the plan released last month.

The first notified plan had the resource consent for the power scheme listed as a discretionary activity, giving Environment Southland the right to grant or decline the application, and also to impose conditions on that granted consent. As a controlled activity, renewal of the consent is guaranteed.

Some former and current Environment Southland staff have disagreed with the change, saying it may hamstring the regional council's ability to re-assess Meridian Energy's use of the Waiau River — potentially for the next half century.

Council officers said in a reply report last year that Environment Southland wouldn't be allowed to re-assess how much water Meridian Energy took from the Waiau River, or how quickly it took the water.

Former Environment Southland senior policy planner Claire Jordan was on maternity leave last year when council officers responded to the change. She returned to work earlier this year, but resigned when she became aware of the change in activity status.

"[The council officers are] concerned, as I am, that a controlled activity status is really going to hamstring the council in terms of making any changes to the activity in the future."

When the consent expired in 2031, she said it was likely Meridian would receive another 35-year consent, meaning it'd be another 50 years before the council could have a meaningful conversation about the way Meridian used the water. 

At low flows, around 95% of the Waiau River is rediverted into the power scheme and later discharged into Deep Cove, according to Environment Southland.

Meridian Energy statutory and compliance strategy manager Andrew Feierabend said Meridian sought a controlled activity status to provide certainty for the re-consenting of the scheme in 2031. 

"The controlled activity status is appropriate as it recognises the national importance of the Power Scheme, which produces around 12% of the country’s electricity needs and contributes towards the government’s goal of 100% renewables by 2035."

Most of the hearing commissioners, except for Commissioner Maurice Rodway, were persuaded with the arguments Meridian presented to them. In their report they said they did not believe the new status would preclude the regional council from re-assessing how water was used in the future. 

However Mrs Jordan said there was a real risk the commissioners were wrong, and if they were, it'd be the community and the river that suffered.

Of the 900 submissions to the Southland Water and Land Plan, it appears four parties can submit an appeal on this specific issue. 

The Department of Conservation, Southland Fish and Game, and Aratiatia Livestock said they were reviewing the issue and still deciding whether to appeal.

Federated Farmers Southland president Geoffrey Young said it would be appealing, saying it was one of the biggest issues in the plan. Members were concerned farmers and the greater community would be shut out of the limit setting process down the line.

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said the regional council was unable to comment on the decisions plan itself while the appeals period was still open. 

Environment Southland held a public meetings about the decisions plan in Winton yesterday and will hold another in Te Anau on Monday, May 14 at the Fiordland Community Events Centre at 2pm and in Gore on Thursday, May 17 at the James Cumming Wing in Gore at 2pm.


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