A group opposing a planned wind farm near Dannevirke is unlikely to appeal against an Environment Court decision allowing the project to go ahead.
Waitahora-Puketoi Guardians spokesman Stuart Brown said the group had spent about $130,000 fighting Contact Energy’s proposal and he was deeply disappointed by the court’s decision.
The group’s lawyer would examine the 41-page judgment, but an appeal was unlikely, he said.
The court overturned an earlier rejection of the proposed farm on the Puketoi Range, southeast of Dannevirke.
A joint committee of Tararua District Council and Horizons Regional Council had declined the application, but Contact changed its proposal and the Environment Court approved it.
Conditions for building the wind farm have not yet been finalised, however.
The farm would have either 58 125-metre-tall turbines or 52 150m turbines on the western slopes across 9km of the Puketoi Range.
If installed, the 150m turbines would be the biggest in New Zealand.
Judge Craig Thompson and commissioners Russell Howie and Helen Beaumont said in their judgment that the area surrounding the site was sparsely populated.
They noted that Contact Energy had reached an agreement with two landowners previously opposed to the development.
The court judgment said experts agreed the site was “sensitive” because of the presence of limestone, but the risk of significant adverse effects was low.
“The wind farm site has been a working farm for many years and is highly modified, being almost devoid of the original cover of indigenous vegetation and associated fauna.”
It also said both Tararua District Council and Horizons Regional Council were now “reasonably content with the proposal”.
One of the commissioners who declined the initial proposal, Horizons regional councillor Vern Chettleburgh, said the approved application was vastly different from the one he heard.
Mr Chettleburgh said he felt vindicated by the judgment.
He said concern about groundwater being affected by earthworks was one of the main reasons commissioners initially declined the application.
In rejecting the application, commissioners left the door open to a “reconfigured proposal”.
But Mr Brown said Contact’s new scheme was not greatly different from the previous one that was rejected. “It’s hard to see how the impact is going to be different,” he said.
Mr Brown was still worried that building the wind farm would damage the limestone terrain.
New Zealand Wind Energy Association chief executive Fraser Clark said the court’s decision showed hill country could be suitable for well-designed wind farms. “In this case, the farmland was identified as having outstanding landscape values, which Contact has respected in designing the project.”
Contact would give an assurance to neighbours that their water supply would not be affected by the development, though the court found no reason to extend that to guarantee water for stock.
There is some doubt, however, that the wind farm will be built. The Environment Court imposed a requirement that Contact build it within five years or risk having its consent lapse, but market conditions for wind energy have been less than favourable. Contact had sought a 10-year period.
“Reflection since the hearing has led us to the clear view that 10 years is an unreasonably long period,” the commissioners said.
“Not only may such a long period unreasonably impact on surrounding landowners … but it locks up a valuable resource, preventing its possible use by others.
“If Contact finds itself unable to give effect to the consents … then it will have the opportunity to explain why that is so.”
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