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Inquiry proves meticulous, slow  

Credit:  Grant Miller, Manawatu Standard, 6 June 2011 ~~

Mighty River Power’s eleventh-hour bid for extra wind turbines seems desperate and even cynical.

The Turitea Wind Farm inquiry is surely one of the slowest fast-tracked decision-making processes around. And the fact Mighty River Power recently tried – and failed – to extend the already lengthy hearing only adds to community suspicions that the power company tried to wear down opponents by dragging on the process as long as possible.

It’s an unlikely tactic, but it will be interesting to see how many people bother to make submissions on the company’s attempt to squeeze in 12 extra turbines to make the proposed wind farm near Palmerston North more viable.

It’s important to remember the board of inquiry’s draft decision is already in – Mighty River Power has consent for just 60 turbines on the Tararua Range, nowhere near the number it wanted – so the last-ditch plea to allow a dozen more seems rather desperate, if not a bit cynical.

Many opponents of the proposed wind farm have, of course, made their views known several times already, so motivation levels may well be on the wane.

But what’s really interesting is how the Government used to say what a wonderfully streamlined and efficient process it was going to run when it took the decision out of local hands.

Environment Minister Nick Smith was hardly on the most solid ground when he ‘‘called in’’ the hearing as one of national importance, but he no doubt hoped the inquiry would help light the path for Resource Management Act reform.

What transpired was certainly a thorough, perhaps even a good process, but not an expeditious one.

Dr Smith announced in December, 2008, that a national board of inquiry should hear Mighty River Power’s case for what was then a 131-turbine proposal.

The hearing, which started in July, 2009, spanned nine months and the board’s draft decision was not released until February this year.

The Environment Ministry’s bill to Mighty River Power for the call-in process was more than $1.5 million. The bill for the hearing alone was more than $500,000. Additionally, Palmerston North City Council’s involvement cost more than $850,000.

Mercifully, the inquiry process has no appeal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is quicker.

Many times throughout the Turitea hearing submitters were reminded the inquiry was an ‘‘iterative process’’.

That means it is fine for a series of changes to be made to the proposal throughout the process because the aim is to arrive at the best outcome in the end.

Goal-post shifting is clearly allowed, but, whenever there is a change to the proposal, everybody is entitled to have their say about that.

It’s not hard to see how this can drag on.

So, when Mighty River Power asked for the hearing to carry on even longer, after the draft decision had been issued, the board of inquiry was basically obliged to at least entertain the thought.

The board showed sense, however, by not granting the request and instead simply allowed people to have their say on the power company’s eleventh-hour bid to slot in the extra turbines.

Mighty River Power probably figured it had nothing to lose from having one last crack, but a few of its arguments lately have been silly. For example, it said the board gave no warning about the scale of changes the draft decision would demand.

Well, so what? The board was appointed to make a decision – not to give the applicant nods and winks about its thinking.

If, deep down, Mighty River Power actually wanted a fast process, it is largely the author of its own misfortune.

The power company applied for the board of inquiry process in the first place and put up such an audacious scheme that it became evident midway through the hearing there was almost no chance it would get the green light to proceed.

So, the company – suddenly more sensitive about the visual impact of its proposal – revised the layout and cut the number of turbines sought to 104.

Perhaps the power company misread Dr Smith’s enthusiasm for the inquiry process as a hint about the possible outcome of that process – hence its optimistic proposal.

Whatever, the board was meticulous.

Board members decided that a wind farm in the area would be a sustainable use of resources, but a farm of the scale proposed by Mighty River Power would compromise Palmerston North’s south-east skyline too severely.

Some decisions are too important to be rushed.

It’s easy to decry ‘‘red tape’’ and lambast public bodies for their inefficiency.

Finding a better way is the hard part.

Source:  Grant Miller, Manawatu Standard, 6 June 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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