West Coast council backs locally generated hydroelectricity

10:33 am on 12 November 2023
The Westland Milk Products Hokitika plant.

The Westland Milk Products Hokitika plant is the largest industrial coal user on the West Coast. Photo: Greymouth Star/Brendon McMahon/

The West Coast Regional Council is calling for the Government to back locally generated hydroelectricity as the country moves away from coal and gas.

The council has submitted on the Government's discussion documents - Advancing New Zealand's Energy Transition - on its local power needs.

West Coast has some of the highest priced electricity in the country due to the losses of power via transmission lines through the Southern Alps.

The council described a focus on large-scale renewable energy development within the discussion document as "disappointing".

Instead, the council called for local renewable energy generation to be supported as solar and wind generation are "not viable options" for the West Coast.

Submitters for the proposed combined Te Tai o Poutini Plan also called for a more flexible approach to enable electricity generation in the region.

The submissions pointed out the proposed small-scale hydro schemes in the region -- namely the Waitaha run-of-river scheme -- is needed for the region to be self-sufficient and even an electricity exporter.

The region's community-owned lines company Westpower said that if the region's single biggest manufacturing site, Westland Milk Products, fully switched to electricity it would soak up the entire electricity capacity in the region.


The council said "it is disappointing" the Advancing New Zealand's Energy Transition discussion document appeared to only focus on large-scale renewable energy developments.

"The council's view is that development of local renewable energy sources needs to be supported in a national energy strategy."

It also noted a lack of focus on renewable energy "generated by and for local areas" in the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority's Regional Energy Transition Accelerator report for the West Coast.

That report, released in August, focused on replacing commercial and industrial fossil fuel with biomass and electricity in the region.

"But it does not state where the electricity will be sourced from, and it appears not to support or promote using local renewable resources to generate electricity for local communities," council said.

Instead, support for the development of local renewable energy generation should be clearly stated in the national Emissions Reduction Plan, the National Adaptation Plan, and the national Energy Strategy, the council said.

The council goes on to suggest the solar and wind generation options proposed in the discussion document cannot be relied on in future dry generation years.

"Medium to large scale, land-based wind generation is not an option due to our low wind power densities," the council said.

"There is also fewer sunshine hours and limited flat land available on the West Coast for commercial, medium to large scale, land-based solar generation compared to Canterbury for example."

The Government needed to support "micro, small and medium-scale hydro" as the region had the water and slopes for the schemes.

"Locally generated hydroelectricity will improve the West Coast's resilience to the impacts of natural hazards, which may disrupt the national grid for weeks or months."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs