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Geothermal matchmaker steaming ahead with plans to create jobs in Bay of Plenty and beyond

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Andy Blair describes her role as something of a geothermal matchmaker – it's about connecting those with resource to those who can benefit, creating jobs in the process.

After the official announcement of her appointment as the new geothermal business development lead for Bay of Plenty Connections at the end of last year, the Taupo woman is hitting the ground running.

Strange as it sounds, Blair says her goal isn't about preaching the virtues of geothermal – she knows others don't find it as exciting as she does – but instead helping businesses see where they can add value to their products by using the resource sustainably in systems where the resource is available.

It's when she talks about increased profits, environmental benefits and more jobs that she knows she'll get people on board.

"I'm really excited about this role. I know this work can really have an impact on the community. I really believe industrial direct use can have strong socio-economic benefits and I'm excited about New Zealand and what it can achieve having more of this."

It's an area Blair knows well, after spending almost a decade with GNS Science as the geothermal business development manager prior to her new role.

"I'm a science geek from way back but I am also a business person."

She has also acted as the geothermal lead with Bay of Connections, and says the new role is an outstanding opportunity to drive sustainable growth in the area.

Established in August with the ambitious target of creating 500 jobs attributed to direct-use geothermal projects by 2025, the role is aimed at removing barriers and speeding up investment in the geothermal industry. A Bay of Connections initiative, it is funded by Bay of Connections, industry partners and the Government.

Blair says she's under no illusions about the importance of her role, or the "leap of faith" which has been taken to create it.

"I think it is really smart of Bay of Connections, the industry partner and the Government to allow this to happen."

Blair has travelled to countries that are world leaders in direct-use geothermal, such as Iceland, and says she's seen the real prosperity it can create when used sustainably in areas where geothermal is available.

"It's about having a good champion to get ideas across the line and I'm privileged to be that champion."

Blair admits people don't necessarily understand what direct-use geothermal is, but says once they see the benefits of the projects, the high levels of employment and projects which are good for the planet and their communities, they become interested.

"Geothermal is only the medium through which it happens. People don't care about geothermal, they care they can plug into something sustainable, that it is competitive economically, and that it is a good for their business."

She says links she's formed with other countries using direct-use geothermal will tie in well, and other countries which are further developed in the area are willing to collaborate.

"I think we have plenty to offer in the space, including our links with Māori culture. We are in a really good position. I would love to see Māori owning this space and benefiting from it."

She'd like to see similar business parks created around geothermal, such as what's done in Iceland. Direct-use geothermal is already used in New Zealand in industries such as timber drying, aquaculture, tourism, horticulture and milk drying, she says.

"In 10 years, I would like to see more people benefiting from, and understanding, direct-use geothermal."

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Friday, February 9, 2018

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