Allegations of electricity price-fixing and scathing criticism of some wind farm opponents spiced up the final day of the Project Hayes hearing yesterday.
The five-week hearing ended with a bang as counsel for Meridian Energy, Andrew Beatson, presented a 115-page report that was heavily critical of submissions from Contact Energy and Central Otago District Council planning consultant David Whitney, who has recommended that consent for the application be refused.
Mr Beatson said the concerns of some submitters carried little weight and some ‘‘extravagant and unsupportable claims’’ had been made. He rejected any suggestion of dishonesty or deceptive conduct from Meridian or its witnesses and said the Project Hayes project was an exciting one that would put Central Otago ‘‘at the forefront of an era in which renewable energy will ensure that we, and those who come after us, have a safe and healthy future’’.
Failing to plan for new generation at this time would put the security of New Zealand’s energy supply in jeopardy, Mr Beatson said. He criticised a condition proposed by Contact for the wind farm that he said could affect electricity prices in the Otago-Southland region and risk breaching the Commerce Act provisions prohibiting price fixing arrangements.
Contact wanted construction of the wind farm to be staged as transmission upgrades occurred, preventing Meridian from developing new generation at Project Hayes up to or beyond the point where the transmission grid out of Otago-Southland would become potentially further constrained.
However, if the transmission grid was constrained it would create a regional market in the Otago-Southland area, where a surplus of electricity generated would push prices down, Mr Beatson said.
By preventing that constraint from occurring, wholesale prices would stay at a higher level than they would normally be.
‘‘Meridian does not agree to the condition that is sought, and is concerned that if it agreed to do so it would risk breaching the Commerce Act provisions prohibiting price fixing arrangements.’’
Mr Beatson said the Project Hayes hearing was fundamentally a landscape case, with the key issue being whether or not the substantial benefits afforded by the proposal outweighed the undoubted ‘‘challenge’’ to the status quo.
He said the panel hearing the application should not place any weight on the analysis and recommendations of Mr Whitney’s report, which was unbalanced and geared towards a negative assessment of the application.
‘‘Mr Whitney has consistently played down or disputed the benefits of the project and sought every opportunity to disagree with evidence presented by the applicant and supporting submitters.’’
‘‘His interpretation and assessment of various plan provisions has been deliberately designed to engender a negative outcome.
‘‘He has consistently only referred to those provisions and adopted interpretations that support his approach whilst ignoring those that do not.’’
Mr Beatson dealt with heritage, ecology, traffic and noise issues in his report, and acknowledged that landscape experts were divided on whether the Lammermoor Range was outstanding or not. However, a landscape assessment requested by the CODC and carried out by landscape architect Mary Buckland, from Auckland, backed up Meridian’s claims that the Lammermoor Range was not an outstanding landscape, Mr Beatson said.
In the report, obtained by Meridian through the Official Information Act but not yet public, Ms Buckland said the project area was of above average quality, but not of such quality as to be outstanding.
Mr Beatson said it was important to note that while some submitters had requested that turbines near the Te Papanui Conservation Park, the Old Dunstan Rd and the Rock and Pillar conservation area be removed, the Department of Conservation had not asked for those turbines to be removed.
Project Hayes would contribute almost 25% of New Zealand’s renewable energy target, with each turbine having the potential to power up to 1494 houses with renewable energy.
By Pam Jones
14 July 2007
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