7 Nov 2009

Environment Court backs Otago wind farm opponents

7:21 am on 7 November 2009

The Environment Court has upheld an appeal against Meridian Energy's proposed Project Hayes wind farm in Central Otago.

The energy company applied for resource consents to build 176 wind turbines on the remote Lammermoor Range in 2006.

The court issued its 350-page ruling about the $2 billion project on Friday which declines consents Meridian Energy was seeking from Otago Regional Council.

The court says despite the potentially large contribution of energy to the national grid, it would be inappropriate to put a huge wind farm in such a nationally important natural landscape.

It said there were many alternatives to the Lammermoor site for wind energy and chided Meridian Energy for not producing more information about them.

The group Save Central co-ordinated the appeals from the Maniototo Environmental Society and the Central Otago Environmental Society.

The reversal has been welcomed by Graye Shattky of Save Central, who says his group sought to protect the region's landscape and heritage.

Mr Shattky says the group does not oppose renewable energy or wind power, but this scheme was inappropriate because it was in the wrong place.

Lawyer Ian Gordon, who represented objectors, believes the court got it right in demanding more information from Meridian.

The ruling has been attacked for putting a heavy burden on any developer, but Mr Gordon disagrees.

"Meridian were arguing that the court should put aside outstanding natural landscape values for the national good. Therefore, the court said perhaps you should look beyond this landscape to produce that electricity for the national good.

"So if it's not just a regional or district matter, then go beyond those boundaries and look elsewhere."

Meridian Energy spokesperson Alan Seay says Meridian planned its work very carefully and is disappointed by the decision.

Mr Seay says the outcome highlights that it is extraordinarily difficult to get consents for renewable energy projects and the company is still considering its response.

The Wind Energy Association says the requirement for Meridian to provide more information about alternative sites would require vast research on theoretical possibilities before every case could be decided, and would be impractical.