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Clutha Resource Consent Hearings Conclude

Clutha Resource Consent Hearings Conclude

Contact Energy Limited today began its closing submissions in its marathon four-month application to renew its water rights for the Clutha River/Mata-au.

The hearings follow some five years of preparation and several million dollars in costs met by Contact to fund both its own submissions and those of objecting parties. This was in addition to the costs of the hearing itself, which is one of the longest ever held under the Resource Management Act.

Contact is seeking a 35-year consent renewal, although the Otago Regional Council has sought in its submissions to limit this to 10 years for the Clyde dam, at which time the renewal process would be repeated.

Contact has sought relatively small changes to the existing regime, including permission to run the Clyde dam at its full capacity of 1000 cumecs, instead of being obliged to spill water once generating at the current permitted maximum of 850 cumecs.

Opening his address this afternoon, Counsel for the company Trevor Robinson stressed the importance of the Clutha catchment for electricity generation, especially in light of recent public focus on the security of electricity supplies.

Some submitters had under-estimated the potential consequences of operational constraints on Contact’s ability to generate electricity, he said.

“Recent publicity about the re-determination of the Maui Gas field availability, and the consequences of the Maui platform tripping off several times in short succession two weeks ago, should surely have demonstrated that Contact’s evidence, if anything, understated the seriousness of the electricity supply position going forward,” said Mr Robinson.

“In my submission, the Commissioners should look very critically at any suggestions that would constrain the ability of the Clutha hydro stations to meet electricity demand, particularly in circumstances where there is a supply shortage.”

On environmental questions, Mr Robinson said that Contact had spent “a huge amount of time and millions of dollars obtaining and presenting independent assessments of the entire range of environmental issues raised by its applications”.

“In some cases, the position is not certain. Absolute certainty about environmental effects is neither possible in many cases nor required by the RMA. What is required is for the Commissioners to make a judgement on the basis of the information before them.”

The 38-page submission, which can be viewed in its entirety on the Otago Regional Council’s website at www.contactconsents.orc.govt.nz, covers the major issues raised in the hearings, beginning with the permitted baseline issue.

Contact has argued from the outset that assessment of the environmental effects of granting Contact’s applications should compare the current and future effects of the company’s operations with those that would exist if the consents were not to be granted – that is, with the permitted structures (the dams) in place, but all the gates open.

Several days were devoted to considering this issue during the hearing – and Mr Robinson’s submission underscored the company’s view that the permitted baseline remains fundamental to consideration of its application.

Among the more contentious areas of debate, the social cost of past flooding at Alexandra had occupied many hours of the hearing.

Mr Robinson noted that that the Alexandra flood banks – paid for by Contact and the Crown – provided flood protection to something in excess of a one in 100-year flood frequency event.

“That level of protection is above the standard widely adopted throughout New Zealand, and better than a wide variety of urban communities of a similar size to Alexandra,” he said.

During the hearing, Contact confirmed that it had agreed mitigation packages with a range of submitters, including the Historic Places Trust, the Hawea Irrigation Company, and Kai Tahu.

It was expected that Contact would complete delivery of its closing submissions by the end of this week.

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