Powering Northland: How Top Energy is making Northland self-sufficient whilst protecting vulnerable wildlife

At a glance...

The client

Top Energy wanted to make Northland self-sufficient for power by building two new power stations in Ngāwhā.

The challenge

The geothermal site is home to rare endemic species requiring conservation measures.

The results

Appropriate protections were put in place and both power stations greenlit. One is now operational and the other is under construction.


Top Energy is a community-owned trust that supplies electricity to Northland, New Zealand. With just one power station in Ngāwhā, electricity still needed to be supplemented from further afield, which often caused outages.

In 2012, Top Energy decided they wanted to expand their footprint and construct two new power stations so that Northland would be self-sufficient for electricity. But to do that, they needed to find out what flora and fauna would be impacted, and whether it could halt their plans.

The ask

When Top Energy built their first power station in Ngāwhā, their resource consent was granted on the condition that they monitor species of conservation concern in the area. The key species were the Northland mudfish and the fernbird; both rare and endemic.

“Top Energy got me involved in the baseline ecological surveys for their first power station and the subsequent monitoring that followed consent. So I knew the area well and could apply that knowledge when it came time to reassess the area for new resource consent applications.”

Gary Bramley | Senior Terrestrial Ecologist, Ecological Solutions

The power station is situated on a valuable habitat which introduced a challenge. Ngāwhā means “boiling springs” due to the geothermal activity around the area.

“The thing about geothermal soils and water, like those surrounding the power station, is that they create unique conditions for plants. So you get a lot of rare species that you don’t find anywhere else.”

Building two new power stations would require additional robust ecological surveys, and that’s what we were asked to do.

Why us?

“We have a long-standing relationship with Top Energy, working with them in various capacities for over a decade. Having helped them secure consent for their first power station and conduct the monitoring that followed, they knew they could trust our expertise and advice in seeking consent again.”

Following on from our previous successful engagements, Top Energy knew that we could be trusted to deliver the same high standard of work and help them expand their footprint to responsibly serve the people of Northland.

Our solution

“We conducted baseline ecological surveys to identify the terrestrial and aquatic life in the area. We did this through an Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE). As part of an AEE, you make recommendations for how ecological impacts might be avoided, remedied, mitigated, or offset – in that order of priority. 

For any effects of construction that we deemed unavoidable, we ranked the affected habitats according to their importance. If the affected habitat was too important to disturb, then we stipulated how a similar, larger area of high value habitat could be protected nearby.”

This approach made it easier to demonstrate how the environmental effects of the project were fully assessed, prioritised, and managed. We took this to an environmental court hearing and were then asked to draft the conditions of the resource consent, by taking our findings into account.


The results

Thanks to an in-depth assessment and thorough presentation, Top Energy were granted resource consent for their new power stations. The first of the two is fully operational, and the second is currently under construction [at the time of writing].”

As a result of our work together, Top Energy can now supply Northland with a more reliable power source – without risking the ecological value of this unique habitat.

Plus the ongoing monitoring that we’ve been doing shows that mudfish populations, in particular, are doing well; they’re healthy. As are the plants that we were concerned about too, which is awesome.”

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