A last-ditch effort by Meridian Energy to stop the Central Otago District Council (CODC) hearing an application for the Project Hayes wind farm has been scuttled, documents obtained by the Otago Daily Times reveal.
In a written appeal to Environment Minister David Benson-Pope to intervene, Meridian Energy chief executive Dr Keith Turner accused the CODC of dragging its feet over the application.
He also suggested in a letter written two days after the CODC planner recommended the project be turned down the council was not up to the task of determining the progress of New Zealand’s biggest wind farm.
“Despite the good intentions of the CODC, there can be little confidence that it will proceed with timeliness with the hearing and decision-making process, and be able to dispassionately assess the unprecedented scale of potential national and international beneficial effects of the proposal,” Dr Turner’s letter says.
In a letter of reply, Mr Benson-Pope says the Government will not intervene.
Mr Benson-Pope told the ODT yesterday when contacted that he had held in-depth discussions with his ministry both on Meridian’s proposal, and the TrustPower proposal for Mahinerangi.
“I asked did they expect or desire any intervention and was assured quite clearly the answer was no,” Mr Benson-Pope said.
“And in the context of giving control to local authorities to make their own decisions where they are competent in the process, it would be entirely inappropriate and unnecessary to intervene.”
The proposed project, by the government-owned power company, has 176 160m-high wind towers and if approved is expected to cost between $1.2 billion and $2 billion to build. It would generate 630MW of power.
The CODC is the principal party in the joint hearing with the Otago Regional Council (ORC).
The Government can “call in” an application if it is considered to be in the national interest, and can send the application to a Panel of Inquiry, or directly to the Environment Court.
The documents obtained yesterday reveal Meridian wrote to the minister with a formal request to call in Project Hayes on April 12.
Meridian received the CODC planning report, which recommended the wind farm not proceed after highlighting its environmental impacts, on April 10.
In his letter, Dr Turner was critical of the time delay between the Project Hayes application being received by the CODC and the hearings taking place.
It had taken six and a-half months from the date of notification by the CODC and the first hearing date which is Monday April 30, compared with Trust-Power’s Mahinerangi wind farm lodged on December 7 and set down for a two-week hearing beginning May 7, he said.
Meridian had lodged an application with the CODC on July 12, 2006.
After Meridian satisfied requests from the CODC for further information, the application was publicly notified on October 5, 2006, with submissions closing on November 24. Meridian Energy had no further comment to make yesterday.
By Diane Brown
27 April 2006
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