Wind farm plan derailed (+ map)

GRANT MILLER
Last updated 12:00 12/02/2011
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Environmental commissioners have taken a knife to the Turitea Wind Farm proposal near Palmerston North – calling it intrusive, too close to homes and too dominant on the skyline.

Only 61 of 104 turbines proposed by Mighty River Power have been given a tick of approval by a government board of inquiry.

Almost a year after its hearing finished, the board yesterday released a 450-page draft decision, allowing a severely scaled-back wind farm to be built on the Tararua Range.

Various parties will now be asked for their comments, before a final decision is issued.

In March last year Mighty River Power lawyer Karen Price warned that cutting the scope of the project could result in delays – or the farm not being built at all.

In the past two years, the power company has seen its proposal slashed in half, but remained upbeat yesterday. General manager for development Mark Trigg said the firm was pleased a decision had finally been made that "allows us to move forward with assessing detailed technical and commercial considerations".

"We're still adamant this is an excellent wind resource and there is a project there to be developed."

The consent will lapse after 10 years if Mighty River does not advance the project.

Many opponents were thrilled with the result. Tararua-Aokautere Guardians president Kevin Low said his society's concerns had been heard. "We called the original application excessive and rapacious, and the board has largely agreed with our assessment."

He believed the wind farm would be "still within the bounds of viability".

The board found Mighty River's proposal would have negatively affected areas of indigenous vegetation, and it had significant adverse effects on the skyline and landscape.

If the scaled-back farm goes ahead, there will be two distinct groupings of turbines – 38 in the north and 23 in the south.

The lawyer who presented most of the city council's case, John Maassen, said the council's objection to the proposed wind farm's scale had been vindicated.

"I see it as a complete and utter victory. I'm rapt – over the moon."

Mr Maassen said the decision would protect the view of Palmerston North's south-east skyline from Fitzherbert Ave.

But wind farm supporter Joseph Poff said the decision was a tragedy, and the city council had "spoiled an opportunity for ratepayers" by arguing against the project.

Wind Energy Association chief executive Fraser Clark said an opportunity to use a world-leading wind resource "may now be threatened by the board's decision to reduce the scale of the project".

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Friends of Turitea Reserve chairman Adrian Cookson said the society was pleased some people would be "spared the sight and sound of 20-storey high turbines alongside their properties", but putting turbines in the council-owned Turitea Reserve would still be "an act of industrial vandalism".

Dr Cookson said the proposal had been disruptive and nobody benefited from the decision-making process being dragged out.

Former city councillor Michael Feyen said the proposal should have been chucked out and turbines should not be allowed in the reserve.

He said Manawatu had become a sacrificial dumping ground for wind turbines, but Mr Clark said the Manawatu region was a net importer of electricity.

THE STORY SO FAR

2005: Palmerston North City Council selects Mighty River Power as its partner to develop a wind farm on council-owned land on the Tararua Range.

2006: The council changes the purpose of the Turitea Reserve so renewable electricity can be generated there. In 2007, the High Court rules this is legal.

July, 2008: Mighty River Power announces it will seek consent to build up to 131 turbines at the Turitea Reserve and on adjacent private land.

December, 2008: Environment Minister Nick Smith decides a national board of inquiry should determine if the proposed Turitea Wind Farm should go ahead, taking the decision out of local hands.

January, 2009: Nine turbine sites are cut.

July, 2009: The board of inquiry hearing starts. After deleting another proposed turbine, Mighty River proposes up to 121 be built.

October, 2009: The hearing is adjourned to allow Mighty River Power to redesign the proposal. The company proposes that up to 104 turbines be allowed.

March, 2010: The hearing resumes and concludes, with the board considering arguments on the redesign.

February, 2011: The board's draft decision is released, permitting 61 turbines.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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