Catherine Delahunty

Going geothermal

by Catherine Delahunty

Yesterday Gareth Hughes and I visited the Contact Energy geothermal power complex at Wairakei. It was a chance to see how the power stations work including how the energy is managed and how water and waste is treated It was a fascinating opportunity to go inside the older facility at Wairakei built in the 1950’s and 1960’s and to walk through the new power station being tested as we speak at Te Mihi. We were shown the bioreactor that was developed to treat the water from the Wairakei plant before it is returned to the Waikato River and to see the test bores and drill sites. The Contact people were very helpful and welcoming. We had lots of questions for them because renewable and truly sustainable are not always synonymous.

Catherine and Gareth at Wairakei Geothermal Plant

Catherine and Gareth at Wairakei

The new geothermal plants being developed reuse more of their water and are very efficient. Wairakei is being adapted but will close around 2026. The technology was described as “bespoke” as every geothermal field is different and requires different management. I was particularly interested in the reinjection process into deep water aquifers because Contact had raised concerns about my Resource Management Amendment Bill on rivers impacting on their consents to discharge geothermal fluids into the earth and underground water. We met after the Select Committee submission process and negotiated how we could amend my Bill to achieve my goals for rivers and allow their geothermal discharges to be status quo under law. This has been a positive process as was the visit. Interestingly Contact had brought one of their senior staff to meet us and debate the NZ Power proposal which they are concerned about in terms of their shareholders. A lively discussion on the price of power and the modelling we are proposing ensued. Gareth and I were pretty upfront about making power work for citizens and industries, not just the shareholders of the big 5 companies. We support geothermal power, all kinds of renewables and a positive intervention for a fair price to all our people.

The geothermal resource is being well managed and sustained, the story of its development is extraordinary in terms of renewable energy, and it was great to meet the people who run the power stations on the ground. The political debate about a fair model that that brings power to all the people wasn’t resolved yesterday but we are more than happy to engage in it.