Providing clear and credible information about the environmental effects of wind farms and other proposed energy projects is vital if community support is to be gained, Prof Richard Morgan says.
The University of Otago geography professor is convener of a two-day energy conference which starts at the university tomorrow.
“Current energy project debates show that when we have a poor understanding of likely effects . . . it is very difficult to reach decisions that most people feel comfortable with,” Prof Morgan warned.
“The debates quickly become polarised and adversarial, creating more difficulties for the subsequent decision-making process.”
By contrast, well-founded information about potential effects allowed decision-makers to make informed decisions, recognising the tradeoffs that may have to be made between the benefits and the costs of a project.
In the Otago-Southland area, including near Dunedin, proposed wind farms, hydro projects and the renewed possibility of lignite mining had sparked vigorous debate.
Under the Resource Management Act, an assessment of environmental effects, known elsewhere in the world as an environmental impact assessment, played a key role in evaluating development projects.
“If the assessment of effects is poor, people will be able to argue quite different views about the likely outcome of a proposed project, and hopes of reaching some form of consensus will generally go out the window,” he said.
About 60 people are attending the annual conference of the New Zealand Association for Impact Assessment.
The gathering will examine how better use of impact assessment can help improve decision-making about energy projects, such as wind farms and hydro schemes.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams will deliver an opening keynote talk on “Decarbonising NZ’s electricity generation; the opportunity of the century”.
Prof Richard Morgan heads the university’s Centre for Impact Assessment Research and Training, and is president of the US-based International Association for Impact Assessment.
By John Gibb
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