The Government has decided to formally support the controversial Project Hayes wind farm on the Lammermoor Range, behind Middlemarch.
The Minister for the Environment and Dunedin South MP, David Benson-Pope, confirmed yesterday the Government would be putting in a supporting submission to the Project Hayes resource consent process the first time it has taken such a step.
The proposed project, by government-owned power company Meridian Energy, will have 176 160m high wind towers and is expected to cost between $1.2 billion to $2 billion to build and generate 630MW of power.
Submissions to the company’s resource consent application close with the Central Otago District Council this Friday.
Mr Benson-Pope said the Government’s decision had been discussed by the Cabinet last week and was expected to be given final approval today.
The “whole of government” submission was being worked on at the moment, and would thus involve other government departments. The only other government department known to be planning a submission was the Department of Conservation, which had statutory independence under the resource consent process, Mr Benson-Pope said.
The minister said the department wanted more information from Meridian Energy over issues such as landscape and visual amenity. If it was satisfied with the information supplied, then that would be the end of its involvement, he said.
The Government supported the project because it fitted in with its stance on security of energy supply and renewable and sustainable energy, he said.
“The Government considers the development important and essential for this country,” he said. “The reality for our clean, green image is we must support the conservation message and wind farms are the way to do that.”
Mr Benson-Pope said there were all sorts of issues surrounding the proposal. He also said there had been some “really extreme” debate.
“Some people are saying it is not sustainable, not measured. There has been some really extreme debate by some on the silly fringe.”
He agreed many people had legitimate concerns and they were quite entitled to put forward their views. The Government was also quite entitled to put forward a submission, but the hearing panel considering the resource consent remained independent.
It was the first time the Government had taken such a step, but Mr Benson-Pope said it was unlikely to be the last. It was likely to also put in a submission supporting the wind farm proposed near Lake Mahinerangi, on the Lammerlaw Range, by TrustPower.
“The Government has got a clear policy on renewable energy and our submission will reflect that.”
Wind energy would lessen the reliance on hydro-electric power, he said. The country as a whole was struggling with hydro storage at present.
Project Hayes is expected to provide power to meet the needs of up to 263,000 homes.
Mr Benson-Pope said Ministry for the Environment officials had met the two local authorities hearing wind farm consents about the process and whether to get involved.
He said he could have appointed a person to sit on the consent panels but his officials were satisfied with the process carried out by the two councils.
No hearing date has yet been set by either of the two local authorities.
By Steve Hepburn
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