Wel Networks has won permission to build its controversial 28-turbine wind farm, christened Te Hauhiko o Wharauroa, at Te Uku.
The decision by a panel of commissioners released today by Waikato District Council to approve resource consent for the project comes after five years of Wel investigations into wind power generation, and two years of feasibility studies on the Wharauroa Plateau in Te Uku.
The decision also comes in a week where the Gov-ernment’s energy policies have been creaking at the joints, with blackout fears escalating and a decision made to reopen a mothballed thermal station in Taranaki but in climatic conditions not conducive to a wind farm.
Wel’s project team is now engaged in fully understanding the 148-page ruling and 26 pages of conditions, but chief executive Julian Elder welcomed the decision.
“We were always hopeful, but it is nice to see it in writing,” he said.
The wind farm will provide sufficient energy for 30,000 homes and bring the Raglan district a greater security of supply with a lines upgrade being brought forward by eight years.
Total costs are expected to be about $200 million ($160 million for the wind farm and $40 million for the lines upgrade) by the time the project becomes operational in 2010 at the earliest. Wel Networks has spent about $3 million on the project so far.
However, the commissioners have recommended no physical work be allowed to start on the project until Wel receives all the necessary approvals and consents for substations and lines upgrades. Under its consents, Wel has seven years to build the wind farm.
Dr Elder said a final decision to proceed would be based on emissions trading economics and could happen within one to three years.
While there is a strong prospect of opponents due to receive their copies of the decision today appealing to the Environment Court, Dr Elder was confident of success and warned Wel would be seeking to recover costs.
“If it goes to appeal, our costs will be in excess of $1 million,” he said. “We are hopeful the decision will not be challenged with an appeal … and that we can work towards mitigating any outstanding matters of concern.”
The commissioners’ decision reveals it was a close call for the wind farm on several counts. They concluded that while the wind farm was contrary to the objectives and policies of the council’s operative district plan, the same was not true of its proposed district plan and it deserved to be given significantly more weight.
The wind farm also did not comply with council’s ridgeline policy.
“Even though there will be adverse effects on the Wharauroa ridgeline, and associated amenity impacts in particular, commissioners find that the benefits of the proposal in a national and regional context outweigh these adverse effects.”
Four related consents for earthworks, stormwater and stream diversion for the wind farm have been granted by EW.
By Bruce Holloway
30 May 2008
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