Meridian Energy has been granted a five-year consent extension for its wind farm, Project Central Wind.
Rangitikei District Council voted on the consent extension for the proposed wind farm located between Waiouru and Taihape at its meeting on Thursday.
But, after no construction since it was first granted Environment Court approval in 2010, this may be the last time the energy company is allowed to just “shunt” the project along.
The planned 55-turbine farm would generate approximately enough electricity to power about 50,000 average New Zealand homes each year.
Speaking at the meeting, Mayor Andy Watson said the council had sought its own legal advice and would make its decision based on three aspects of law: whether Meridian had made substantial effort and progress on the project, did it fit within the district’s plan, and that Meridian had addressed those affected by the project.
Watson said he would have loved to have seen some physical work done, but from a legal point Meridian had met the necessary threshold. However, there would probably be a different outcome if Meridian came back in five years and there were no turbines spinning.
Meridian Energy associate general counsel RMA Humphrey Tapper said essentially they were just “shunting” the same consent into the future.
Despite no construction starting, it had spend $4.6m. This was about 1.5 per cent of the total project spend, Tapper said.
When asked by Cr Dean McManaway if there was a timeframe for the project Tapper said it was “very difficult” to put a date on it.
Cr Soraya Peke-Mason said she “absolutely disagreed” with the idea that 1.5 per cent was substantial progress.
Peke-Mason said what Meridian described as a “desktop approach” to assessing the projects effect on people by examining building consents lodged was not sufficient.
Cr Ruth Rainey said she was surprised the onus was not on Meridian to prove there was not a level of uncertainty effecting people.
“I would except you to go out into community and find out if someone had not done something because hanging over their head.”
Ash said she did not think Meridian had demonstrated it had met this aspect.
“We do not know it is a small number of people affected and I don’t think they’ve put a substantial effort in.”
Cr Nigel Belsham said the council had sought independent legal advice and it had shown that sufficient work had been done in the areas the council needed to consider.
Watson said he had to look at this from a legal point of view but he did sympathise with the project’s main opponents the Rangitikei Guardians.
The council voted to approve the application extension with Peke-Mason, Ash, Cr Tim Harris and Cr Richard Aslett voting against
Rangitikei Guardians chairman Geoff Duncan said they were disappointed with the result.
Meridian had definitely not met the measures set for them by the council.
“We thought they would have more regard for our legal counsel’s opinion,’ member Gill Duncan said.
Gill said when Meridian had repeatedly been asked about a timeframe for work they had not given one. “If that’s not uncertainty I don’t know what is.”
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