The persistence of the environmental status quo : power and the Manapōuri Hydroelectric Generation Scheme : a thesis in partial fulfilment of the degree of a Master in Resource and Environmental Planning at Massey University

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Massey University
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The power of the Manapōuri Hydroelectric Generation Scheme (MPS) extends well beyond excited electrons. Path dependencies, knowledge, regulatory processes, and rationalisations (justifications) presented as rationality are the key characteristics of the power tactics used to protect and enhance the status quo operation of New Zealand's largest hydroelectric power scheme. The unique design of the power scheme sees up to 95% of the country's second largest river, the Waiau River in Southland, diverted outside the catchment. The unrivalled diversion changes the essential character of the Waiau River. It reduces water quality, quantity and aquatic habitat, impedes fish passage, alters sediment transport and geomorphic processes, and negatively affects cultural values and recreational opportunities. Despite significant normative change in environmental values since the MPS's construction and an increasing voice for tangata whenua, operational change to improve the river's health has been patchy. The small, geographically isolated community in the Waiau catchment has advocated for returning some of the water to the river through various review processes over the MPS's lifetime, with limited success. There is a clear power asymmetry between the local community and the generator, which is 51% government owned. But understanding the nature of power relationships requires close examination of the obvious; of the taken for granted. With that in mind, this thesis unpicks the specific tactics of power brought to bear on the Waiau community over four formal regulatory review processes spanning 30 years. In doing so, this thesis finds that the MPS provides textbook examples of power strategies in practice. This is important, as the literature tends to focus on ex-ante processes, the initial fight for permission to construct large infrastructure against opposition from the 'NIMBY' community. This research demonstrates that power strategies also permeate big infrastructure projects ex-post. Indeed, for the local community, this is when the real challenge begins. Once the concrete has hardened and the power constellations stabilize, subsequent review processes cast the local community as the perpetual respondent, embedding a persistent advantage in favour of the status quo.
Figure 1 (=Lave, 2015 Fig 1) was removed for copyright reasons.