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Copeland Energy House Speech

Gordon F Copeland MP

United Future Spokesperson on Energy

Mr Speaker

Yesterday in this House I asked the Minister of Conservation, Hon Chris Carter, whether he would be prepared to look at changing the provisions of the Conservation Act 1987 to permit the Dobson Hydroelectricity scheme on the West Coast to proceed.

To my great disappointment his reply was in the negative.

New Zealand is now in a critical situation with regard to the supply of electricity. I regret to inform the House that supply shortages could continue beyond 2003 and possible right out to about 2005. I have seen the graphs and they clearly indicate a gap between electricity supply and demand over that period and, it takes time to bring new generating capacity on stream.

If I am right about that then this is a matter of the utmost gravity for the people and the economy of New Zealand. All facets of our life from processing and manufacturing right across to telecommunications, IT, and the ability, particularly in the South Island, to keep warm during the winter are heavily dependant on a reliable supply of electricity.

I believe that time and research will show that a major part of the blame for this situation lies with the Conservation Act 1987.

33% of all NZ land is controlled by the Department of Conservation (DOC). This includes all NZ rivers, lakes and streams. DOC has 13 Conservatories and each one has their own separate Conservation Advisory Board. People on these boards have been appointed by successive Ministers of Conservation and for the most part can be described as people who are committed to preserving our rivers and lakes plus their surrounding catchments in pristine condition. They appear in practice to have virtually veto powers.

There is no overall national policy concerning how to handle requests for hydro schemes on DOC controlled land. There is no standard manual. I am advised that for years now companies and individuals have approached the local conservatory, and its Advisory Board, and been given a flat "no".

I believe this relates to hydro schemes centred on the Rotorua Lakes and on the Mohaka, Motu and Raukokoe Rivers in the North Island. In the South Island the same thing has happened concerning schemes at Karamea, Ngakawau and Dobson on the West Coast.

However this may simply be the tip of the iceberg.

All of this amounts to a major systemic problem. It is unbalanced and unacceptable. Water constitutes cost-free energy for generating electricity. It is perpetually renewable and sustainable. Many Hydro schemes easily meet the criteria for conservation which is the protection, preservation and careful management of national resources, having regard to environmental outcomes.

Against that criteria hydro schemes must rank well ahead of generating electricity by importing oil or burning coal and yet that is exactly what we are doing to get ourselves through this winter and through the next couple of years.

Today I appeal to the Government and to all members of this House on a non-partisan basis to make the solution of the problem a number one priority. If we have to change the Conservation Act so be it. The people of New Zealand will be angry when they realise that the present electricity crisis could have been avoided if we had had in place, as they have in Western Australia, proper policies and procedures to enable hydro schemes to be advanced and to be advanced quickly.

I have asked myself how this scandalous and serious situation can have been allowed to develop under successive Governments. It is because we have been burning Maui gas like there is no tomorrow. Well, tomorrow has arrived and we have foolishly failed to provide an alternative.

If we do not sort this issue out I predict that come election day the anger of New Zealanders will be expressed by the ballot box.

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