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Energy company warning

Opponents of a planned $400 million wind farm at Lake Mahinerangi, near Dunedin, have been warned that they could be liable for costs if they lose an appeal they are taking in the Environment Court, according to one of those opposing the plans.

Ewan Carr, a member of the Upland Landscape Protection Society, which has appealed the planned 100-turbine project, said the society had been warned of the possibility of large costs by lawyers acting for wind farm backer TrustPower.

Carr said he had received phone calls and a letter from a Trustpower lawyer stating TrustPower had spent close to $1m on witnesses for the appeal.

“He said `If you don’t withdraw your appeal, TrustPower reserves the right to pursue those costs’.”

Four appeals were originally lodged against consents approved last year by a joint panel of the Otago Regional Council and Clutha District Council.

Two have been withdrawn, leaving appeals by Contact Energy and the Upland society. The appeal hearing is scheduled to start in Dunedin today.

Carr, who owns the Danseys Pass Coach Inn and invests in dairy farms, said the costs warning made some society members nervous.

There was no precedent for costs to be awarded against the society, he said. “This is not an appeal which has been vexatious. There are significant issues in the public interest which need to be tested or the environment will suffer.”

TrustPower, the country’s fourth largest electricity retailer, said it was not attempting to bully. “It’s just reality,” spokesman Graeme Purchas said.

“We would be remiss if we didn’t remind them that we have the right to ask for costs – and we will.”

The society had failed to present any evidence or provide a schedule of witnesses, he said.

“You just can’t go on ad infinitum letting people waste time and money, and this has what’s been happening up until now.”

Lobby groups have been hit with costs before. The Malvern Hills Protection Society was ordered to pay $26,000 in costs over what a judge found were “frivolous, vexatious” claims against the $409m Central Plains Water scheme. Judge Jeff Smith, who made that order, is sitting in the Mahinerangi case.

The Press


14 April 2008