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Wel Networks’ proposal to build a $120 million wind farm at Te Uku is technically and commercially feasible, witnesses told the opening day of a Resource Management Act hearing for the project in Ngaruawahia.
But the application, being heard by commissioners Michael Savage (chairman), David Hill, John Hudson and Graham Ridley, is also controversial and attaining consent will be anything but a breeze.
Wel is seeking permission for 28 wind turbines, each with three blades and a total height of up to 137m, that will operate 24 hours a day, on the Wharauroa Plateau, 3km south of Te Uku and 7km east of Te Mata.
The wind farm will also require 25km of access roads, and three meteorological masts up to 80m high.
The application is the most complex in the Waikato district since Spring Hill prison. The hearing is expected to last at least a week, and has attracted 207 submissions: 86 in support, 101 opposed, six partially opposed and 13 neutral.
Wel Networks has opted not to seek consent for an on-site substation or overhead transmission lines as part of the project – even though they will be an integral component of any operation.
The commissioners queried why that was so, noting it was not good practice to seek separate approval for such project elements later, because it did not allow for a comprehensive assessment of potential effects.
Wel counsel Stephen Berry said the company planned a substantial upgrade of its whole western Waikato network.
“The precise form of that upgrade will be known once we know whether there is wind park approval,” he said.
“Wel took the view it was better to have the entire lines upgrade dealt with as one project.”
When the hearing began, submitter Sean Cox complained that Wel Networks’ failure to provide briefs of its application evidence 10 days beforehand had hindered his ability to prepare his opposing submission.
Mr Savage did not uphold his complaint, but did ask that Wel provide the information to Mr Cox, who lives 10km from the farm site, as soon as possible.
Mr Cox, a former English wind farm designer, strongly opposes the project, and told the Times he believed the Wel case was “shabby” and relying on outdated technology.
Mr Cox was videoing the hearing until it was brought to the attention of Mr Savage, who ordered him to stop.
In a preliminary planning report on the wind farm, landscape consultant Stephen Brown highlighted the potential overall effect of Taharoa C and Taumatatotara wind farms slightly to the south gaining consent and the massive project planned by Contact Energy in Te Akau to the north.
Mr Brown lamented the fact it was not possible to assess the proposal in the context of “the big picture”, suggesting the character, value and integrity of the western Waikato was being progressively diminished without acknowledgement of the cumulative effects.
In seeking to rebut this, Mr Berry said while it was appropriate to consider the effects in conjunction with the two Waitomo projects, he distanced the Te Uku project from Contact’s Te Akau plans, pointing out it was not even the subject of a formal application yet.
“The Contact proposal, such as is known, is entirely different to the Wel proposal in terms of scale and location.”
23 November 2007
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