A proposal to build a $2 billion wind farm on a South Island range should be rejected, a report to the Central Otago District Council recommends.
In a report released yesterday, council-contracted planner David Whitney said the negative impacts locally of Meridian Energy’s 176-turbine project outweighed the national benefits, and he recommended it should not be given resource consent.
Project Hayes won support from the Government in December, with Environment Minister David Benson-Pope lodging a submission on behalf of the Government in favour of the wind farm.
The report yesterday acknowledged that the wind farm planned for the remote, tussock-covered Lammermoor Range would provide a substantial renewable energy resource.
However, it said adverse effects on the “iconic landscape” from turbines up to 160m high, as well as on its heritage and tourism prospects, were likely to be significant.
“In all circumstances, and given the uncertainty with respect to transmission effects and the lack of information with respect to alternatives (including smaller wind farms closer to where the electricity is required), we recommend … that consent be refused,” it said.
The recommendation was welcomed by some residents, including artist Grahame Sydney.
“I think what’s most encouraging for us is that significant weight has been given to the notion that landscape can have value beyond simple economics,” he said.
“Of course, if you want to take it down the economic path, you can make a very big case for tourism and landscapes.”
Sydney said the report highlighted several weaknesses and inadequacies in Meridian’s case.
“We’re thrilled these have been recognised by (the planner) and that on balance he recognises that the council has to look after the interests of its own ratepayers long before it gets persuaded into any notion of national good,” he said.
Meridian spokesman Alan Seay said the company received the report yesterday and was now studying it.
In its application, the company said the wind farm could potentially supply power to 263,000 homes and was an environmentally responsible alternative to fossil fuels.
It would employ up to 150 people during the construction period and become a tourist destination in its own right, the company said.
It would provide a new revenue stream for the five landowners involved, and the company planned to introduce a community fund for infrastructural upgrades in the region.
In an unusual move last December, Benson-Pope lodged a submission supporting Project Hayes.
He said the Government expected the wind farm could provide one-third of the renewable energy it wanted the country to be generating by 2012.
However, Whitney’s report concluded the positive effects of the proposal were primarily those that resulted at a national level.
His report will now go to a panel of Central Otago District councillors, led by an independent commissioner.
The panel will hear the resource consent bid from April 30.
The panel is likely to hear further evidence from Meridian and many of the more than 1000 submitters on the proposal.
It is not bound by the planner’s recommendation.
By Debbie Jamieson
11 April 2007
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