The green light to build the world’s biggest wind farm in Central Otago hinges on consent hearings which got underway on Monday.
Meridian Energy wants to erect more than 170 giant turbines many as tall as a 45-storey building in an area opponents say is too beautiful to be spoiled.
The Project Hayes wind farm planned for Central Otago’s windswept Lammermore Range would produce enough electricity for more than quarter of a million homes. It would cover up to 92 square kilometres of land near Middlemarch.
“In a world stage this is an incredibly good site for both wind strength and scale,” says Dr Keith Turner, Meridian Energy CEO.
Meridian lawyer Andrew Beatson told the hearing in Alexandra the proposal represents a substantial reduction in reliance upon greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels and will also provide a buffer in years of low water supply to New Zealand’s hydro generation plants.
But there’s already a snag. A consultant planner for one of the two local authorities running the consents process has recommended against Project Hayes. His report says the wind farm would have significant environmental and visual impact .
“We think there are a lot of weaknesses in that report. It doesn’t comply with the RMA (Resource Management Act) in many parts,” says Turner.
Central Otago District Mayor Malcolm McPherson says the consultant planner’s report is a starting point.
“In many ways his report’s an opening shot – a statement from which the panel can make a start.”
Public opinion also is split. Of the more than 1,000 submissions, 516 are for and 524 against the wind farm project.
Central Otago residents who will make submissions opposing the wind farm include All Black Anton Oliver, artist Graeme Sydney and poet Bryan Turner.
They will get their say in June in a consents hearing process expected to take more than five weeks.
Speed up process
Meanwhile, National is calling for the government to speed up the consent process for major energy projects.
Meridian Energy believes the Central Otago District Council is not equipped to deal with a consent application as complex as Project Hayes.
National Environment spokesman Nick Smith says the matter should have been directly referred to the Environment Court as he believes that is where it will end up after the council’s hearings. He says the only winners from such a drawn out process will be lawyers.
30 April 2007
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