The unique Central Otago landscape was safe from corporate industrialisation after the withdrawal of the $2 billion Project Hayes plan, artist and objector Grahame Sydney said yesterday.
Meridian Energy’s 633-megawatt plan was one of the most controversial energy projects in New Zealand and sparked an intense, hard-fought battle by environmentalists.
Plans to build a wind farm in remote Central Otago were first mooted in the 1970s but the Meridian-led proposal for a 176-turbine array prompted concerted opposition.
Spokesman for lobby group Save Central, Graye Shattky, said: “It’s great news.”
He spoke to the group’s lawyer, Mike Holm, earlier this month as members were preparing submissions, expecting to be served with Meridian legal paperwork by the end of January.
On behalf of the group, he said the decision was a considerable relief but no surprise.
“All credit to the new Meridian chief executive for weighing the costs and benefits of the case and seeing no profit in continuing.
“No doubt once the dust has settled, there will be a proper inquiry and public explanation regarding the original rationale for the project and the consequent enormous costs, not only to the taxpayer but also by way of the price paid by Central Otago communities and families.”
Mr Shattky said the original ruling cancelling consents for the wind farm was a landmark decision for New Zealand, establishing a baseline for the protection of Central Otago and other significant landscapes.
The Save Central group, vociferous opponents of the wind farm bid, includes Sydney, former All Black Anton Oliver, poet Brian Turner and Central Otago campaigners.
Sydney yesterday said the withdrawal of the plan was proof that a small group with limited means could win a fight against the Government and corporates.
“Not that people didn’t agree with us but they felt it was a hopeless case and we could never beat the Government and the corporates.”
It was worth fighting for and showed questionable decisions could be overturned, he said.
There was a degree of complacency and arrogance with Meridian and a confidence regarding the proposal.
The energy firm’s decision to withdraw was sensible and the efforts made by opponents aimed to highlight the uniqueness of the Central Otago landscape and the effects of any corporate industrialisation, he said.
“The truth of the matter is we as a group always felt we had right on our side.
“It’s particularly important for Central Otago, given the look of the region is so fundamental to its economy. It’s what makes Central Otago unique.”
Save Central is a subcommittee of the Central Otago Environmental Society.
Society president Richard Kohler, of Alexandra, said the Meridian withdrawal was hugely pleasing.
Donations for Save Central’s legal fight arrived from all over the world and eventually amounted to more than $100,000, he said.
“It’s the best news I’ve had in ages.
“There could be a new application for resource consent in the offing right now but now the stakes are a bit higher.
“It’s a great day for Central Otago and it’s a great day for the environment.”
Some residents eventually left the Paerau-Styx Valley because of the divisiveness caused by the project and the ensuing legal battles.