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Wind farm decision fails to satisfy either party

The Government has approved construction of a wind farm near Palmerston North but neither Mighty River Power nor its opponents are completely happy with the terms.

The 450-page draft consent, issued by a government Board of Inquiry yesterday, allows for 61 turbines to be built at Turitea, on the Tararua Range east of the city.

It is significantly less than the 105 turbines applied for by Mighty River Power. Previously, the project had been scaled back from 121 turbines.

General manager for development Mark Trigg welcomed the decision but said the reduction in turbines would “adversely impact on the project economics”.

Fraser Clark, of the Wind Energy Association, said the region’s economy had missed out on a significant financial windfall. Its existing wind farms generated an estimated $8 million to $11m.

“But this opportunity may now be threatened by the board’s decision to reduce the scale of the project.”

The proposal to build at Turitea has faced stiff opposition in the past three years from local residents and lobby groups who fear the look and noise of further turbines on the Tararua Range will degrade the environment.

In January 2009, Environment Minister Nick Smith said the issue was of national importance, and the Government stepped in to hear the case instead of leaving it to Palmerston North City Council.

It was the subject of a seven-week hearing in mid-2009 and another three week hearing in March last year. The process is understood to have cost Mighty River Power more than $1.5m and the council more than $900,000.

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor said the length of time the decision took and the cost it incurred was “regrettable”.

“It’s hard to comprehend, to be honest. The rationale we were given for having the decision called-in [by the Government] was that it would be quicker and more effective.

“If we had been left to consent this, it would have been sorted by now.”

Wind farm opponent and former city councillor Michael Feyen said he felt the deck had been stacked against the wind farm opposition from the start.

“The Government owns those SOEs and sets in place the hearing panels. It makes an income from [wind farms] through carbon credits and it simply needs dumping grounds for these.”