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A Focus on Fish

When our customers flick the switch they want to know the light is going to go on. For that to happen their power supply has to be secure and sustainable. Sustainable not only economically, but also environmentally.

"We see the environment as a key stakeholder with which we have to have a positive relationship,” says Kerry Watson, TrustPower’s Environment Manager.

Developing positive relationships has been key to the success in which TrustPower recently re-consented its Patea Hydro Electric Power Scheme. The 30MW Taranaki scheme consists of an 86 metre high dam on the Patea River with the 46 kilometre long Lake Rotorangi behind it.

TrustPower received a renewed consent for the scheme from the Taranaki Regional Council in 2008. But that consent was appealed both by TrustPower and a number of other parties. “We were staring down the barrel of an Environment Court hearing, a process which we just knew would be both costly and time consuming for all parties,” says Kerry.

Instead of taking a legalistic approach, TrustPower started talking. “Fish & Game considers that the process has been a good one, with negotiation in good faith by all parties resulting in agreement on consent conditions and substantial agreement on monitoring provisions being achieved through mediation and without the costs associated with a full Environment Court Hearing. Fish & Game has appreciated the positive approach by TrustPower staff and their commitment to resolving any issues that have arisen,” says Fish and Game spokesperson Allen Stancliff.

One of the key issues was the restricted passage of fish due to the size of the dam. Under existing consent conditions TrustPower was trapping and transferring elver (baby eels) from the dam into the lake and holding controlled spill releases to allow tuna (adult eels) back into the sea. But Kerry says once they started talking with the other parties they saw an opportunity to transfer a wider variety of native species and improve down stream migration. “We wanted to ensure our electricity generation didn’t have an unacceptable effect on biodiversity, and together we came up with a plan to achieve that,” says Kerry.

The plan includes extending the trap and transfer programme from four months a year to ten months a year to cover the migration seasons for all native freshwater fish. Modifications will be made to the trap so that those fish known to be ‘poorer climbers’ can get into it and TrustPower purchased a fish transport trailer so some of the fish can be transferred to the upper catchment by road to avoid predation in the lake. Prior to the release programme beginning TrustPower will also fund surveys of the upper catchment so that the effectiveness of the programme can be measured.

With the plan in place, and all parties agreed, the new resource consent was issued in December 2010 without anyone having to step inside the Environment Court. It was a result the local Iwi were delighted with. “This has been a complex and at times challenging task, but through it we have developed a great partnership with TrustPower,” says Te Runanga o Ngaati Ruanui Trust Chairman Ngapari Nui. “Developing fish protocols with TrustPower to ensure native fish are present throughout the river’s catchments and the re-stocking of fish goes to the heart of maintaining the life force of the Patea River and asserting our kaitiakitanga – or guardianship.”

Kerry Watson says TrustPower, stakeholders and iwi all wanted the same outcome, they just had to work together to get there. “We have taken a process which was heading down a confrontational track and turned it into a positive journey, full of great working relationships which I know we can build on in the future. By doing that we have not only protected our environment, we have also protected the future of our generation assets.”