Turitea Reserve can be used for “renewable electricity generation”, the High Court has ruled in a groundbreaking decision released yesterday.
It means Mighty River Power can apply for resource consents to build up to 60 wind turbines in the reserve at the northern edge of the Tararua Range, 11km south-east of Palmerston North.
But critics warn a national precedent has now been set allowing “open slather for industrialisation” of local-purpose reserves.
The controversial plan – a joint venture between Palmerston North City Council and Mighty River Power – involves using revenue generated by the wind farm to create an eco-park.
Friends of Turitea Reserve Society sought a judicial review, arguing, among other things, that the council’s decision-making process last year was compromised by a prior agreement between the council and state-owned enterprise that included carbon credits and “progress payments” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the council.
The High Court, sitting in Palmerston North, dismissed the society’s application, but it won’t have to pay costs.
“We’re quite surprised and pretty disappointed,” society chairman Adrian Cookson said yesterday. “It’s a very dangerous decision to neutralise local-purpose reserves – eroding those values held true by New Zealanders.
“(Going for nice walks in native bush) and having turbines towering over you is not a natural way to appreciate the environment.”
Justice David Baragwanath said the generation of power by wind turbines is a legitimate council purpose.
He said a contention of council bias “failed” and the council met its legal community consultation requirements, although the flavour was “promotional”.
Council staff saw the decision as vindication.
“It’s a decision that doesn’t just benefit the city council but (everyone in the city who subscribes) to our vision of an impressive eco-park on their doorstep that can be enjoyed by generations to come,” said wind farm project leader Mike Manson.
Mayor Heather Tanguay said there was “absolute urgency” to mitigate the effects of climate change by using renewable energy.
Mighty River Power group strategist Neil Williams said a thorough and open community consultation process will take place in advance of any decision to apply for resource consents.
Mighty River’s preference is to connect the wind farm to the national grid at the Linton substation, 6km south of Palmerston North.
Dr Cookson said members would read the judgment before considering their next move, he said.
By Grant Miller
27 July 2007
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