Waitaki is a hydro station located in the Waitaki Valley, North Otago, New Zealand.
It has six 15 megawatt generating units, and a generation output of up to 90 megawatts.
Waitaki generates enough electricity each year for about 62,000 average New Zealand homes.
Waitaki was constructed by manual labour as a ‘make work’ project during the Depression of the 1930s.
Meridian is investing more than $40 million on a four-year project to refurbish the Waitaki dam and power station.
Waitaki was the first hydro station to be built on the Waitaki River, and is part of the Waitaki hydro scheme.
The Waitaki hydro scheme is made up of eight hydro stations on the Waitaki River in the South Island.
Meridian owns and operates six of the hydro stations, located from Lake Pukaki to Waitaki.
The Waitaki power station was the last to be constructed in New Zealand without modern mechanical equipment. Over half a million cubic metres of material was excavated, almost entirely by pick and shovel.
It is a concrete arch dam with no spillway, but it’s designed to allow water to flow over the top if it floods.
The hydro station started generating electricity in 1935, with two 15 megawatt generators operating – enough to meet almost half of the South Island’s electricity needs at that time.
Three more generators were installed between 1940 and 1949, bringing the generation capacity up to 75 megawatts.
The remaining two units were constructed from 1952 to 1954. The whole power house was extended and a new inlet and outlet channel constructed to accommodate them.
The total generating capacity of the station is now 90 megawatts.
The construction of Waitaki spawned the trial scheme of the world’s first social welfare system.
The station is 8 kilometres upstream from the township of Kurow, where its doctor, D G McMillan, agreed to provide free medical treatment to workers and their families if they paid a small weekly sum into a common fund.
Later, Dr McMillan and Kurow’s Presbyterian minister, Arnold Nordmeyer, became Cabinet Ministers and helped instigate a similar scheme for the whole country. It became official in 1939.
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