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Project Aqua on the 'think big' fast-track

Government puts Project Aqua on the 'think big' fast-track

The Green Party is accusing the Government of a return to the Bill Birch days of 'think big' energy projects, by signalling it will legislate to by-pass the regional council and Environment Court in order to allocate water to the Project Aqua power scheme.

"The Government proposal to introduce special legislation for the Waitaki River is a thinly disguised attempt to give priority to electricity generation over local uses of the water," Green Co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

"We agree that there are just too many demands on water from the Waitaki and we welcome a water allocation plan for the river. We need them for other rivers under stress, too, but this proposal is clearly about Project Aqua and the Government's fear that local councils and the Environment Court might not agree that Aqua should get priority.

"The process allows the Minister to appoint the people who will determine the allocation plan, with no appeal to the Environment Court, and then to appoint the commissioners who will hear the individual applications for water.

"Aqua is a deeply flawed project. Do we really want to destroy New Zealand's largest braided river just to heat our towel rails?" Ms Fitzsimons asked. "It is time we stopped expecting the environment to subsidise our wasteful energy use.

"Aqua will be the biggest 'think big' hydro project since the Clyde Dam. It would channel over 70 per cent of the water out of the river, affecting wildlife, wetlands, fishing, recreation and housing.

"Having been caught out by a second power crisis in three years, the Government now appears obsessed with being seen to be taking action, never mind the environmental mayhem it wreaks en-route and never mind the fact that it will take years for the Aqua project to start producing power.

"A quicker, more sustainable 'fix' would have been to fast-track wind-farms and to properly resource an education campaign on power-saving for all New Zealanders, all the time - and not just when the lakes reach crisis-point.

"What makes this process all the more distasteful is that the Government is bypassing environmental and community interests in order to help Meridian Energy, which it owns and whose profits flow right back into the Government's coffers."

ENDS

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