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Geothermal resources

Champagne Pool, Waiotapu

On this page: A valuable resource; Threats to geothermal resources; Using the resource; Protecting the resource.

New Zealand is known world-wide for its outstanding geothermal attractions. The Waikato region contains 70 per cent of New Zealand’s geothermal systems.

Our geothermal resource includes:

  • thermal energy contained in rocks deep in the earth and carried by water
  • hot lakes, streams and mineralised fluids
  • fragile and unique crystalline structures (such as sinter terraces and sulphur crystals)
  • steaming ground and fumeroles
  • boiling mud pools
  • hot springs (including geysers)
  • the unique plants, animals and micro-organisms that live there.

A valuable resource

Geothermal areas are valued for their vast and largely untapped quantities of thermal energy, mineralised fluids and increasingly for their:

New Zealand extracts 19 percent of its primary energy supply from geothermal sources, most of it from the Waikato region1. This figure is expected to increase to 30 percent by 20302. Geothermal energy provides about 13 percent of our national electricity supply, most of it coming from the seven geothermal power stations in the Waikato region1. In addition, in the Waikato region, about 40 separate industries, accommodation facilities and tourist facilities take small or medium quantities of heat or fluid.

New Zealand’s geothermal features are major tourist attractions for both domestic and international visitors, and are the single most popular sight-seeing destination for overseas visitors 3. In 2010, there were more than two and a half million visits to geothermal attractions in the Waikato region4.

Threats to geothermal resources

Geothermal surface features are under threat in the Waikato. The most obvious indicator of the ill health of our natural geothermal features is the loss of rare features such as geysers, flowing springs and threatened plants.

Since the 1950s three quarters of New Zealand’s geysers have been lost, including features at Wairakei (through extraction of geothermal water) and Orakeikorako (drowned when the Ohakuri hydrodam was built). Find out more about Waikato Regional Council's monitoring of geysers and sinter springs at selected sites in the Waikato region.

Other damage to sensitive surface features and ecosystems has occurred, for example from:

  • building tourist tracks over geothermal features
  • allowing stock access
  • planting and harvesting pines
  • pesticide spraying
  • draining hot springs and the surrounding land.

Find out more about our monitoring of geothermal resources in our region.

Using the resource

You may need a resource consent to take geothermal heat or water, to discharge the water after using it, or to do anything in or around a geothermal feature. Find out more information on resource consent requirements and our policies on using our geothermal resources.

Protecting the resource

Waikato Regional Council wants to protect our geothermal resources while allowing for the efficient use of them. To do this we are:

  • researching and identifying geothermal fields and their features
  • classifying geothermal systems to determine the best management approaches
  • encouraging the reuse and reinjection of used geothermal energy and fluid
  • promoting sustainable management of Development Geothermal Systems through stepped production and System Management Plans.

For policy information on geothermal resources check out our Regional Plan and our Regional Policy Statement.

Footnotes

  1. New Zealand Energy Data File June 2012, Ministry of Economic Development
  2. NZ Energy Outlook to 2030, June 2012, Ministry of Economic Development
  3. Ministry of Economic Development 2011. International visitor survey. http://www.tourismresearch.govt.nz/Data--Analysis/International-tourism/International-Visitors/ [accessed 20 June 2011].
  4. Barns and Luketina 2011, Valuing uses of the Waikato Regional Geothermal Resource, 2011/ 15, Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton.