Via, 12/01/2010

New Zealand’s largest harbour could be providing power to 250,000 homes within 10 years now that the Government has been advised to give its blessing to a tidal power station.

Kaipara Harbour on the west coast just north of Auckland, would be the first in New Zealand using tidal flow to generate energy.

The Environment Court made a positive recommendation to Conservation Minister Tim Groser on a proposal from Crest Energy to generate electricity from the harbour.

The system could be generating power by next year with phase 1 of the project producing 20MW from an initial installation of 20 turbines of the 200 planned. The system could eventually provide up to 4 per cent of the country’s power.

Crest Energy told Northland Regional Council it would build a 200-megawatt tidal power plant at the mouth of the harbour.

"Tidal power is predictable, sustainable, silent and invisible. These advantages need to remain the focus, rather than the eight hours a day when tidal turbines produce little or no power," Anthony Hopkins, a director of Crest Energy, said.

"Tidal power complements other energy sources and will, eventually, be of importance to maritime countries."

The project could cost up to $600 million and would involve 200 power turbines on the Kaipara seabed. Each turbine would be 24 metres high but would be 6m under water at low tide. About 8000 million cubic metres of water passed in and out of the harbour each day, and Crest said the Kaipara Harbour was one of the best sites in the world to generate substantial amounts of electricity.

In its interim decision, the Environment Court said the Crest Energy proposal needed further work, mainly to satisfy concerns about the turbines interfering with the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin and the important snapper fishery on the west coast of the North Island.

Mr Hopkins said the court’s indication of a positive recommendation was great news after more than four years of work.

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