Project Hayes a lesson for wind-farm industry

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 20/01/2012

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Wind energy will remain at "the head of the queue" in New Zealand despite a decision to scrap a high-profile wind farm, an industry representative says.

Meridian Energy said yesterday it was scrapping its controversial Project Hayes, a $2 billion proposal for a 176-turbine, 633-megawatt wind farm in Central Otago.

A long court battle ensued after the plan was announced in 2006, with environmentalists, appearing in the Environment Court, blocking plans to build on the Lammermoor Range.

New Zealand Wind Energy Association chief executive Eric Pyle said the decision was a "positive move" that showed the industry was learning more about the best location for wind farms.

Meridian's move would not have a significant impact on the industry as the company had other "attractive" wind projects that it was working on.

Pyle did not believe the decision would make it harder for other wind farms to be set up in rural areas.

"The rural landscape is always changing and it has changed for decades," he said.

"There have been other wind farms in New Zealand which have gone through the consenting process and with good community support."

Wind energy was likely to remain at "the head of the queue" when energy demand increased, he said.

Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes said Meridian's decision showed the importance of winning community support before starting a controversial project.

"You've got to get the local community on side and the residents on side before you go ahead with a project like this."

He said New Zealand was "blessed" with other renewable energy options, including geothermal energy and tidal energy.

However, wind would still play an important role in the country's energy generation, he said.

"We've been described as the Saudi Arabia of wind, so I think wind will always play a role for us."

Hughes said smaller "community-sized" wind projects could be used to decentralise the country's power supply.

Power industry consultant Bryan Leyland welcomed the "sensible" decision to abandon the project.

He said the project was expensive compared with other methods of generating electricity and would not help to meet peak demand.

"I never saw it as an economic project and I never understood why they were pushing it so hard."

Leyland said geothermal energy was the country's best and most economic energy resource.

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- The Press

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