‘Relief’ Lake Onslow plans to be shelved

Lake Onslow, near Roxburgh. PHOTO: JARED MORGAN
Lake Onslow, near Roxburgh. PHOTO: JARED MORGAN/ODT FILES
A farming couple caught up in the Lake Onslow pumped hydro proposal is glad the idea has been dumped, and has labelled the communication around the scheme as "terrible".

The National-led coalition government’s 100-day plan pledged to stop work on the Lake Onslow pumped hydro scheme.

For farmers Gray and Robyn Pannett, the new government’s announcement was a "relief".

The Pannetts farm Limehills at Millers Flat, near Roxburgh in Central Otago.

They said since the Lake Onslow proposal was first floated several years ago, the communication had been "terrible".

"The government handling of this has been so bad," Mr Pannett said.

"They didn't engage with us initially until we reached out to them. The treatment of information was very poor.

"We would read about progress in the media before they came to us."

The pumped hydro scheme had emerged as a leading contender in Labour’s NZ Battery Project, but it came with the estimated price tag of about $16 billion.

Proponents of the Lake Onslow pumped hydro scheme have argued it was required in response to New Zealand’s aspiration for 100% renewable energy in "dry years" when the hydro lakes were low.

Water from the nearby Clutha River would have been pumped up to the lake and released through turbines when hydro-electric lakes became depleted during dry periods.

Gray Pannett
Gray Pannett
University of Waikato Associate Prof Earl Bardsley, who first proposed the scheme, said he had "some sympathy" for the landowners.

"Lake Onslow had the potential to be a game-changer, but the game has been played very badly by those in charge.

"I understand many of the landowners were getting a lot of their information from the media first. It should not have been that way."

He said there needed to be a cross-party agreement on renewable energy.

"Until that is certain, we will not have a clear definition of what is going on.

"My personal opinion is that it was sad this proposal was terminated before a detailed business case was complete."

Prof Bardsley said Lake Onslow would have a long construction time but could potentially produce cheaper power.

During the election campaign National energy and resources spokesman Stuart Smith said Lake Onslow was "a gigantic, hugely expensive white elephant boondoggle that Labour should consign to the dustbin of history".

Mr Pannett said as they would lose "a substantial amount" of their land through the scheme, "we were never going to support it".

"But I have some empathy for the proponents’ view.

"It’s just that we've had this sitting over our heads for so long that it’s really worn us down."

Although they were pleased to see the back of the scheme for now, they were also worried it could rear its head again in a few years’ time.

"The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) can't give us any reassurances on this.

"This has been a very distressing process. We wouldn't wish it on anybody."

NZ Battery Project programme director John Doorbar estimated there had been more than 20,000 hours spent by the NZ Battery Project team within MBIE on the Lake Onslow investigations since the team was established in December 2020.

In addition, up until the end of June about $21 million had been spent on external costs, including things like geotechnical investigations and data modelling.