High Court rules in favour of wind farm
The Te Rere Hau wind farm on the Tararua Range is too noisy but a High Court ruling says the problem can be dealt with by a review of resource consent conditions.
Justice Williams has upheld New Zealand Windfarms' appeal against an Environment Court declaration that would have paved the way for the Palmerston North City Council to issue an abatement notice and to force an application for a fresh consent.
The judge said there was no doubt New Zealand Windfarms' original application significantly under-estimated how much noise the 65 Windflow 500 turbines would generate at the wind farm.
The problems became apparent in 2009 when complaints from neighbours began pouring in, with 800 received so far.
"The error was a grave one," he said.
However, he did not agree that a condition requiring the wind farm to operate in general accordance with information submitted in its application could be enforced.
Two other, more specific noise conditions describing how compliance would be measured were the key, Justice Williams said.
There was no evidence those conditions were being breached, although monitoring was continuing, and the city council had not moved to issue an abatement notice.
Justice Williams said a consent condition review was "no mere tinkering exercise" and was "a very public correction process".
If innocent neighbours had been unfairly affected by much greater noise impacts than had been predicted, then the review was an effective means to address that, he said.
"They are certainly not left stranded by my finding."
City council head of planning services Russell O'Leary said the council had wanted the declaration that mistakes in the predictions of noise effects undermined the whole consent.
If the council had won its argument that New Zealand Windfarms was operating outside the scope of the consent that was granted, it would have been contemplating a whole fresh consent.
Mr O'Leary said it would take time to consider the decision and hold discussions before deciding whether or when to start the process of reviewing consent conditions.
New Zealand Windfarms has welcomed the decision.
Chief executive Chris Sadler said the company was keen to resolve the noise problems with the council, residents and broader community.
A noise monitoring programme was under way but was taking longer to complete than expected.
The temporary closure of the Manawatu Gorge, which had diverted more traffic to the Pahiatua Track, had raised background noise levels, thwarting attempts at measurement of turbine noise.
Wind speed and direction also had to match particular conditions to make measurements meaningful.