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Steaming hot – geothermal opportunities abound for wider Bay of Plenty

With a history that stems back to Māori legend, and the potential to support New Zealand’s transition to a low carbon economy, the wider Bay of Plenty region’s geothermal resources offer a globally unique proposition for businesses, developers and investors alike.

At CONNECT Bay of Plenty’s most recent meeting – the first in-person hui for the group since the COVID-19 lockdown in March - it was a deep dive into the region’s rich geothermal resource and potential opportunities that formed this key focus.

The CONNECT group consists of representatives of central government agencies, local government, economic development agencies, regional tourism organisations, chambers of commerce and tertiary education providers from across the region. We join together to harness our collective capability, energy and initiatives in the Bay of Plenty in order to leverage regional prosperity.

Following its review in 2019, the Bay of Connections has been clearly focused on four priority areas - Māori economy, infrastructure, workforce development and the transition to a low carbon, circular economy – with the geothermal sector cross-cutting them all.

The Bay of Connections’ role in the geothermal space is to work alongside local and sub-regional economic development initiatives, connecting the dots where required, and continuing to engage with central Government.

Our geothermal resource

Most of the useable geothermal resource in New Zealand falls in the Taupō Volcanic Zone, located within the wider Bay of Connections region.


The region’s geothermal resources provide for a range of sustainable uses, including access to heat and other flow-on resources for manufacturing, processing and more, including activities which could have significant export potential.

Interest in geothermal direct use developments has grown hugely over the past decade, as generators and iwi organisations seek to grow revenue from their geothermal assets.

Successful commercial examples include the Miraka milk drying facility in Taupō, Asaleo Care’s clean steam tissue production in Kawerau, and boutique craft beer company, Rogue Bore in Taupō. All demonstrate the economic and sustainable benefits of using geothermal energy.

Geothermal energy can be used multiple times and in multiple ways, however, it isn’t always a cost-effective start-up and is not always 100 percent carbon friendly. There may also be trace elements at each site such as sulphur and arsenic which need to be carefully managed.

Notwithstanding the challenges, geothermal energy is an important economic development play for Bay of Plenty and the potential opportunities are vast and diverse, including:

• Direct heat use, such as pulp and paper processing, and timber drying
• Electricity generation
• Tourism
• Health and wellbeing
• Land-based aquaculture
• Mineral extraction from geothermal fluids
• Science, academia, and research
• Enabling industries - through cascading energy use for co-located businesses
• Supporting NZ’s climate targets and transition to a low carbon economy
• Innovation
• Exporting IP.

Alongside the economic, cultural and environmental benefits is the fact that all of these opportunities have the potential to create jobs across the region.

As we look to the future, it will be important that more education and hands-on experiences are available for primary and secondary school children, so that they can visualise the potential career pathways. Taupō’s recently established Centre for Geothermal Excellence Cluster is one such initiative, aiming to raise visibility of the sector and capture the minds of youth.

Key skills that will be needed include engineering, maths, science and specialist stakeholder engagement practitioners.

Key contacts

Enquiries on geothermal development and investment opportunities can be directed to:

• Lionel Crawley, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise:
• Kylie Hawker-Green, Enterprise Great Lake Taupō:
• Blair Simm, Rotorua Economic Development:
• Glenn Sutton, Industrial Symbiosis Kawerau:

NZ geothermal on the world stage

New Zealand is driving and leading the world in geothermal utilisation, with Aotearoa being named among the top 10 geothermal countries in 2019; ranking fifth globally for installed capacity, and second for capacity per capita.

The geothermal innovations in Kawerau and Broadlands have made headlines across the globe and the New Zealand Geothermal Association believes there is potential for a significant increase in geothermal direct use.

Its Geoheat Strategy was developed in January 2017 and seeks to unlock potential opportunities, capitalise on interest in renewable energy, assist in coordinating industry and government efforts and resources to increase direct geothermal energy use, and to create associated jobs and employment.

Achieving the goals of the Geoheat Strategy will assist New Zealand meeting its energy needs from renewable sources, contribute to economic and social development in regions and increase renewable and clean energy use. All of this supports our 2030 greenhouse gas reduction commitments. You can read the strategy here.

Mātauranga Māori

The world-famous geothermal resources of our region originate from Māori tohunga Ngātoro-i-rangi, who, when climbing Tongariro, was caught in a blizzard of snow and ice. He called to his sisters Kuiwai and Haungaroa (Hauhangaroa), who filled six baskets with glowing embers and dispatched demigod siblings Te Hoata and Te Pupu to deliver the heat to their brother.

They plunged deep into the earth and travelled to Aotearoa, surfacing at Whakaari (White Island), Moutohora (Whale Island), Rotoiti, Tarawera, Rotorua, Orakei Korako, Waiariki, Tokaanu and Ketetahi. Embers (geothermal activity) were left behind at each location and when they emerged above ground, they created geysers, hot pools and volcanoes.

Geothermal resources are still a taonga (treasure) for Māori and an unbroken relationship has been maintained with the resource, with Māori utilising it for cooking, bathing, heating, cleaning and healing.

Drawing on the past, we know that from as far back as 1850, geothermal wonders had the potential to attract international tourism, such as the Pink and White Terraces. Since the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera devastated the local area, local hapū have worked to foster new tourism opportunities for Te Arawa.

Places like Whakarewarewa Living Māori Village, Te Puia and Ohinemutu continue to attract manuhiri (visitors) who come to view the geothermal activity and to see how people live within these areas.


Power generation

Geothermal energy offers a stable baseload electricity generation and is an important part of New Zealand’s energy mix, of which approximately 85 percent comes from renewable resources: 60 percent hydro, 15 percent geothermal and 8-10 percent wind.

With the majority of hydro generation being in the South Island and the high transmission costs of meeting considerable energy demand in Auckland, the Bay of Plenty has a significant location advantage with respect to geothermal power generation.


Building on what mana whenua have known for thousands of years, the QE Health, Wellness and Spa in Rotorua recognises the healing properties of geothermal waters.

The company expects to be in their new building by mid-2021 and will continue to use a holistic approach to healthcare.

The spa uses geothermal water to heat the building, its water and bathing pools that are used for clinical purposes such as treating arthritis.

Policy and resource management framework

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council manages the geothermal system under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), using the Regional Policy Statement (RPS) and the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan as guidance for resource consents. The RPS provides the overall management framework for geothermal, including sustainable management and system classification.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council manages the geothermal system under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), using the Regional Policy Statement (RPS) and the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan as guidance for resource consents. The RPS provides the overall management framework for geothermal, including sustainable management and system classification.

The classifications range from ‘Development’ to ‘Conditional Development’ and ‘Protected’. Objectives and policies differ between classes, and are consistent with the values and potential uses of these systems. The objective is to seek the best use of the resource for the most people and fit for purpose management. The Rotorua Geothermal System is managed to provide for Māori customary uses and some direct heat use, but protection of its vulnerable and valuable surface features (e.g. Pohutu Geyser) overrides extractive uses.

Geothermal systems and their system classifications can be found on the New Zealand Geothermal Association (NZGA) website.

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Monday, December 21, 2020

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