The site chosen for Meridian Energy’s proposed wind farm on the Lammermoor Range west of Middlemarch was not an outstanding landscape and was of no particular significance, the first day of Project Hayes hearings in Alexandra was told yesterday.
Meridian counsel Andrew Beatson disputed the Central Otago District Council’s planning report, which gave the area “iconic status”, telling the hearings panel the phrase “iconic” was becoming over-used.
The site was not identified in the district plan as having outstanding value and a survey showed it ranked lowly against other landscapes and features in the region, Mr Beatson said.
“Put simply, if this site is categorised as “˜outstanding’, what superlatives are required for the considerable number of other “˜better’ landscapes in Central Otago?”
Outstanding landscapes should not be protected at all costs, with sustainable management being the objective, Mr Beatson said.
The wind farm was of national significance and had Government support.
“New Zealand needs this large-scale renewable project to ensure demand growth can be met.”
The large size of the project was positive and better than building many more smaller wind farms, he said.
“It is scale, in particular, that makes this project unique in New Zealand.”
Meridian chief executive Keith Turner told the hearing wind generation would complement hydro energy and provide a secure supply for consumers, making them less vulnerable to low hydro lake levels and gas shortages.
When wind farms were generating, flows into hydro lakes could be stored. When wind generation was low, reserved hydro capacity could make up the shortfall.
Mr Beatson said the panel’s decision was crucial to the future of wind generation in the area.
“You should be cautious that your finding about this project could effectively be construed as a de facto prohibition of wind turbines anywhere in Central Otago.
“. . . if the proposed wind farm is not considered appropriate here, it is unlikely that a utility-scale wind farm could establish anywhere in Central Otago.”
Meridian will call a total of 18 witnesses this week and next, aiming to finish giving evidence on May 10. Other submitters will be heard from May 14.
By Pam Jones
1 May 2007
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