The Project Aqua Design Difference
Media Release: July 1st, 2003
The Project Aqua Design Difference
Meridian Energy’s proposed Project Aqua hydro-electric scheme completes nearly 40 years of investigations into the hydro potential of the lower Waitaki, and represents a remarkable design achievement.
“The fact that the Project Aqua scheme successfully balances social, economic and environmental factors is a huge compliment to the quality and innovation of the New Zealand designers and engineers that have worked on the proposal,” says Meridian Energy Chief Executive Keith Turner. “The time that Project Aqua has taken to come to fruition shows the complexity that our designers have had to deal with.”
Project Aqua provides for a power system of similar output to the Benmore power station (commissioned in 1965 and 1966), but with less of a footprint on the landscape.
“Project Aqua is a power project that will break a lot of traditions in hydro development in New Zealand. It is a project which is going through extensive consultation. It is the largest project to be developed under the RMA, but it is a project that will provide sustainable power for New Zealand for many, many years to come,” says Dr Turner.
The completed Project Aqua scheme would occupy a total of 719 hectares, or just 9 percent of the area of Lake Benmore (7900 ha). This area would include the 60km system of canals, the six power stations, and access land along the canal corridor.
Since the mid-1960s it was realised that a canal-based system would probably be the best way to use the part of the Waitaki River below the Waitaki power station as an electricity generation source.
The possibility of a series of low dams across the full width of the valley floor or a high canal feeding into one large power station between Kurow and Black Point were also looked at, particularly in the 1970s. These were, however, put to one side because of the high cost, significant loss of well-developed land, and social and environmental problems.
Since then many other possible combinations of canals and power stations in the lower Waitaki have been considered. These have included north-bank options, south-bank options, in-river options, and various combinations of these. Some plans have looked at a single large power station, others at a series of stepped power stations similar to the Project Aqua proposal.
When Meridian Energy was established in early 1999, it reviewed the various investigations and these were developed into the Project Aqua proposal.
“During this review and investigation process we had to remember the requirements of the Resource Management Act. We kept that in mind right from the start as we did not want to graft solutions on to our proposal at a later stage,” says Dr Turner.
The engineers, planners, scientists and other experts kept these principles in mind when developing the Project Aqua proposal. In the first instance they have looked to avoid effects. Where that has not been possible then they have looked to provide a means of mitigation to lessen those effects to an acceptable level. Where mitigation has not been practicable then remedy has been proposed.
“We realised that due to the size and scale of Project Aqua there would be some considerable impacts on the local environment and communities and that is why right from the start, our goal has been to avoid and minimise the effects of the project.”
Meridian Energy has found that this approach both fits with its aim to be a sustainable energy provider, and also helps to reduce risk and costs for the very large and complex Project Aqua scheme proposal.