Mighty River Power and Tauhara North No.2 Trust

Mauri Wair?kei: Harnessing the life force of geothermal energy for community good

Mighty River Power says its partnership with the Tauhara North No. 2 Trust is delivering tangible, long-term benefits for the trust’s beneficiaries and is an excellent example of the company’s approach to its stakeholder relationships.

Commercial partnerships with the trust have seen three geothermal power stations – Rotokawa, Nga Awa Purua and Ngatamariki – developed on the trust’s land. That has delivered enough renewable energy to power more than 265,000 homes, and enabled the trust to build assets now worth $438 million and help fund a wide range of on-going self-help programmes for its almost 6,000 beneficiaries.  

Both the trust and Mighty River Power say the initiative has gone far beyond an `intervention’ and is proving to be a long-term, community-wide, social turn-around project with broader benefits for the region and New Zealand as a whole.

As well as specific health and educational programmes, the local community has gained a greater sense of local resource ownership, and sustainable use, from their direct participation in geothermal generation development. The broader region has also benefited from high-skilled jobs and the establishment of Mighty River Power’s geothermal centre of excellence in Rotorua.

The trust and the company say the scale and breadth of the community’s benefits marks the initiative out from others.

In the past seven years, the trust’s annual health grants have increased 15-fold to $642,248 in the 2014 financial year.  Over the same period education grants increased more than 10-fold to $269,832.

Community grants, ranging from dental treatments and eye tests through to school tuition and tertiary scholarships, are expected to total $1.6 million this year.

While the partnerships are underpinned by aligned values, the trust says an unexpected benefit of the partnership has been the increased interconnectedness it has achieved among beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

Instead of an annual meeting it now hosts a bi-annual weekend event which was attended by 1,200 stakeholders from all over New Zealand. As its educational role grows the trust also now regularly hosts other land and resource owners interested in making better use of their assets, including interest from offshore.

The geothermal investments made by Mighty River Power alongside the trust have helped lift geothermal’s share of its total generation to 40 per cent, and has led a geothermal renaissance in New Zealand – now ranking second to hydro as a generation source for electricity.

Another benefit of the partnership model for the company was a lower cost development of generation due to the parties’ aligned sustainability and economic interests. Consenting costs have been lower and the company says its staff also like working in an environment in which economic and community development objectives sit comfortably with commercial drivers.

This community partnership model and the importance of kaitiakitanga is now ingrained in Mighty River Power’s business – a stark contrast to the traditional ‘stakeholder model’, whereby communities are stakeholders to be managed and considered. The shared understanding and values has been fundamental to the success in harnessing mauri waiariki.

The Community Initiative of the Year award category is sponsored by PEPANZ