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Geothermal

How are ‘Geothermal’ resources managed by the RPS?

geothermalOur geothermal areas have value as tourist attractions and sources of renewable energy, as well as cultural values to Maori and providing habitat for biodiversity. Indeed, 70 per cent of New Zealand’s geothermal resources are in the Waikato region. 

Monitoring has shown that the number of sinter depositing springs and active geysers in the Waikato region has been relatively stable since 1961. However, past human activities destroyed large numbers of geysers. Geothermal power development, land drainage, road works, tourism, vegetation clearance, rubbish dumping, weed infestations and use of geothermal water for bathing and space heating all put pressure on geothermal areas. Also, information about the Regional Geothermal Resource is widespread, but not all in the public domain.

The Geothermal chapter of the RPS manages the geothermal resource by classifying the geothermal resource into a series of 5 system types. 15 large systems and approximately 30 small systems are grouped for varying levels of use, development or protection. Processes include mapping of systems, providing ways to protect significant geothermal features and recognising characteristics valued by tangata whenua. The more knowledge and information that is available about each geothermal system and the effects of its use, the easier it will be to manage. 

Sustainable management of the regional geothermal resource will only be possible by considering the resource in its entirety. To ensure the resource is allocated, protected and used appropriately, a range of uses including energy extraction, low impact use, research and protection of geothermal features will be provided for. 

Key messages

Sustainable management of the Regional Geothermal Resource: Sustainable management of the regional geothermal resource is important. It will be achieved through classifying geothermal systems for management based upon system size, the vulnerability of significant geothermal features to extractives uses and existing uses. The effects of development, and use of land and non-geothermal water on the resource will be controlled. 

We protect and use: The RPS requires that the Waikato Regional Plan identifies Horomatangi, Orakeikorako, Te Kopia, Tongariro and Waikite-Waiotapu-Waimangu as protected geothermal systems. The efficient use of geothermal energy and water in these systems is promoted by giving preference to the use of energy and water efficient technologies and promoting the use of down-hole heat exchangers and group-heating schemes. 

Māori have a special relationship with geothermal resources and consider them as taonga. The RPS recognises and provides for the ahi kā (mana whenua) relationship of tāngata whenua and their role as kaitiaki. Regional councils will work with tāngata whenua to address any threats and manage them.

Enable development: Development geothermal systems shall be managed in a way that enables large, medium and small scale use and development of geothermal energy and water. Promoting efficient use of the geothermal resource and allowing for controlled depletion of energy so as to provide for the energy needs of current and future generations is also key.  

Environmental education and research: Waikato Regional Council will use environmental education programmes to increase public understanding and awareness of the rarity and vulnerability of geothermal features. It will also assist in the establishment of community groups to manage geothermal areas and work with landowners to protect geothermal features on their land. Research will be gathered over time to help people better understand the effects of development and use of geothermal systems.

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Key contacts

Mark Brockelsby, Senior Advisor for Resource Use (Energy). 

Katherine Luketina, Scientist for Science and Strategy (Land and Soil).

Blair Dickie, Principal Strategic Advisor for Science and Strategy (Strategy).

Quote

“Geothermal resources are hugely important for the region.  They provide us with employment in the tourism, primary and secondary industrial sectors, and are used to generate 15 per cent of the nation’s electricity.  They also support some of the world’s rarest and most vulnerable ecosystems, and have spectacular surface features such as geysers and the iconic Champagne Pool.  Maori regard them as taonga and have a rich history of diverse traditional uses including cooking, bathing, and healing.  

Large-scale extractive uses of geothermal fluid can destroy the surface geothermal features we value so highly, and we have already lost most of our geysers. Balancing long-term sustainable use with protection of vulnerable features and ecosystems is achieved in the RPS by protecting some geothermal systems while allowing development in others.” Katherine Luketina, Scientist for Science and Strategy (Land and Soil).