Meridian Energy has strenuously attacked a suggestion that it has a secret expansion plan for its proposed $2 billion Central Otago wind farm.
It insists that is not the case.
The controversial Project Hayes – to erect 176 wind turbines on the Lammermoor Range, 30km south of Ranfurly – has been opposed by All Black Anton Oliver, poet Brian Turner and artist Grahame Sydney.
Each turbine will be 160 metres tall.
Meridian says the farm was unmatched in New Zealand and could save more than a million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year – the equivalent of taking 296,000 cars off the road.
Speaking at the final day of resource consent hearings yesterday, Meridian counsel Andrew Beatson said planning consultant David Whitney was being provocative by highlighting the potential for a larger wind farm.
Whitney has recommended the proposal be rejected because of landscape, visual and heritage impacts.
“My clear instructions are that an expanded wind farm is not part of Meridian’s current wind development programme,” said Beatson. “Meridian soundly rejects any inference or suggestion that it has been anything other than open to this point.”
In a savage attack before the five commissioners – appointed by the Central Otago District and Otago Regional Councils – Beatson said Whitney’s evidence could not be relied on.
He was not objective or balanced, and his views on many important issues were not backed by expert evidence, he said.
“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,” said Beatson.
He also said any suggestion wind energy was unpredictable or unreliable was misconceived, and misunderstood the proposal and the technology employed.
To delay planning and consenting procedures “could cause significant risks for New Zealand’s security of (electricity) supply”.
Meridian said the proposed wind farm was on productive farmland that was comparatively remote.
A recent Environment Court decision allowed Meridian to build a 66-turbine wind farm at Makara, on the south-west coast of Wellington, although deleted four turbines.
Beatson said the court gave the Makara proposal the green light when there were perhaps 150 houses within 2km of the site. Project Hayes had five houses which were 5km away, he said.
Even if the commissioners found the area was considered an outstanding natural landscape under the Resource Management Act, Beatson said the committee could still endorse the development because it was appropriate for the location.
Beatson said the whole of the Government’s largely supportive submission was significant and highly critical of many expert witnesses who gave evidence against the company.
He said the proposed site was not identified as an outstanding natural landscape in the Central Otago District Council’s (CODC) district plan.
Suggestions about effects on the character of the land by Dunedin City Council landscape architect Barry Knox and CODC-contracted landscape architect Ben Espie, were labelled “far-fetched” and “singularly lacking in any specifics”, respectively.
Further, Beatson called into question the submissions of two other landscape architects.
Di Lucas, who was engaged by the Maniototo Environmental Society, was “emotive and alarmist”, while Phillip Blakely’s personal submission was dubbed simplistic.
Beatson also took rival Contact Energy to task for introducing what he described as inaccurate and contested material.
After discrediting evidence on visual effects from many submitters, however, Meridian admitted its own visual simulations did not replicate reality.
Earlier, Neville Marquet, who acts for six submitters living near the proposed Project Hayes site, said the wind farm would transform the Lammermoors mountain range into “a very extensive industrial park” with giant man-made structures.
After eight weeks of hearings, chairman of commissioners John Matthews adjourned proceedings.
By David Williams
14 July 2007
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