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Costs deflate windy issue

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor says it is taking an “absurd” amount of time for a Government board of inquiry to decide if the Turitea Wind Farm should go ahead.

Manawatu is still awaiting a result on the contentious proposal after a hearing spanning nine months finished nearly nine months ago.

Figures obtained by the Manawatu Standard show the process has also cost millions of dollars.

Mighty River Power, which wants to build a wind farm of up to 104 turbines on the Tararua Range near Palmerston North, disclosed that the hearing to decide the matter cost the company more than $1.5 million.

The cost to Palmerston North City Council of making sure residents’ interests were protected was more than $800,000.

Some submitters also paid lawyers and brought in experts for the hearing, as well as often giving up their own time to be there.

A result will not be released until early next year – two years after the Government stepped in to run the process.

In January 2009, it decided to “call in” the process and run an inquiry itself instead of allowing the city council to hear the case, with Environment Minister Nick Smith arguing the issue was of national importance.

“We were told this process would streamline things, yet we’re still waiting for an outcome from the board,” Mr Naylor said.

“The length of time does seem pretty absurd.

“I don’t know why it’s taking so long.

“We have a company wanting to know the outcome so it can move on and a community wanting to know the result so it can move on. Everybody’s in limbo at the moment.”

In October, the board said a decision would not be released until early next year because “logistical publishing arrangements” had to be sorted and board members had also had other commitments.

Environment Ministry environmental protection director Kevin Currie defended the inquiry as value for money.

“The board of inquiry process effectively combined into a single hearing two separate hearings that would have occurred with the councils and the Environment Court,” he said.

The Government’s call-in process has no right of appeal.

Carrying out just one hearing saved time and money, he said.

“Hearings such as this also provide a means of rigorously evaluating the proposal and of hearing and probing information from the applicants and submitters.”

But Horizons regional councillor Vern Chettleburgh said New Zealand should be able to come up with a better decision-making process.

“The call-in system is not reducing the cost or speeding up the process.”

Mr Chettleburgh said zones should be identified for possible wind farm development and a set of national standards should be drawn up, including a setback distance for turbines from houses.


Cost to the Environment Ministry (recoverable from Mighty River Power):

Board member fees $130,833

Consultants and legal advice $114,762

Staff time $93,282

Accommodation for the board $22,931

Accommodation for staff $13,885

Meals for the board and staff $18,171

Travel for board and staff $18,938

Venue hire $20,681

Venue catering $25,999

Venue equipment hire $17,832

Photocopying and transcript production costs $64,987

Hearing manager time $7932

Total cost of hearing $550,233

The total cost of the hearing to Mighty River Power to September 2010 $1,524,452 (That includes funding the hearing as well as the company’s own costs in presenting its case.)

Consultants and contractors cost the company $711,250

Cost to Palmerston North City Council (excluding GST and staff time):

Consultants and experts $362,085

Legal fees $491,974

Miscellaneous $15,576

Total cost to council $869,635