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Plea for ‘rejected’ wind farm to go ahead

A proposed $400 million wind farm was wrongly rejected by commissioners and should go ahead to meet the risk of under-supply of electricity, the Environment Court has been told.

Contact Energy is appealing against a resource consent decision by commissioners last April that rejected an application to build the 65-turbine Waitahora Wind Farm on the northern part of the Puketoi Range, about 10 kilometres northwest of Dannevirke.

After the proposal was rejected, Contact scaled back its plan to install 58 turbines up to 125 metres high, or 52 turbines 150m high, capable of powering up to 70,000 homes.

The appeal is opposed by the Waitahora-Puketoi Guardians Society, but is supported by the main landowner. Horizons Regional Council and the Tararua District Council also support the proposal, subject to conditions.

The Puketoi Range consists of limestone and the proposal was originally declined because commissioners thought there was insufficient understanding of adverse effects on groundwater caused by earthwork construction of the turbines and the access roads.

The commissioners also felt further resource consents were required in relation to subsurface water.

Some farmers in the area are concerned the development will affect the water quality of their springs.

However, Contact rejected the commissioners’ comments and believed the effects on groundwater were well understood. Horizons has agreed that the commissioners were wrong on this point.

The hearing, before Judge Craig Thompson and two commissioners, started on Monday and is expected to run until October 21, with a recess next week.

Yesterday, the court heard from Paul Williams, an expert in limestone geomorphology, who said there would be very little effect on groundwater by the development. Farmers generally had a poor understanding of the workings of groundwater, Professor Williams said.

Erosion and sediment expert Graeme Ridley said the amount of sediment entering waterways would be negligible, with 94 per cent to 99 per cent captured in control devices.

Society lawyer Matthew McClelland said this evidence contradicted that by another limestone expert, who said the work would result in uncontrolled sediment getting into the water.

Contact said the site was an outstanding wind resource in an area that was not heavily populated. Though it was inevitable projects of this size would bring some adverse effects, these were avoided or remedied under the proposal and were “outweighed by the significant positive effects that will result”.

A secure and reliable system of electricity was critical and there was an ongoing risk of the demand for electricity not being matched by supply.