Meridian wins Project Hayes appeal

BY JOHN EDENS
Last updated 05:00 17/08/2010

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The High Court has upheld an appeal by Meridian Energy over its planned 176-turbine Project Hayes wind farm in Central Otago.

The 63-page decision by Justices Lester Chisholm and John Fogarty means the judgment will be reconsidered by the Environment Court, which cancelled consents for the proposed $2 billion wind farm on the Lammermoor Range in November.

"Meridian is to be given a reasonable opportunity to present further evidence on the question of alternatives," it says.

At its core, Meridian objected to the Environment Court's "new test" that a project such as Project Hayes should demonstrate how it was economically better than any other potential generation scheme and consider alternative sites.

Justices Chisholm and Fogarty say Meridian was not obligedto go beyond a "reasonably detailed" description of alternative sites in Central Otago to satisfy this.

They rejected the ruling that said Meridian must show how the Lammermoor site was best and stipulated nine points for the Environment Court rethink.

"Relatively unusual" consideration of alternatives should not be pushed too far and tests developed in other wind farm bids should be applied, the Justices said.

Wind farm opponents consistently argued for the protection of Central Otago's outstanding natural landscape and hailed last year's decision as groundbreaking.

John Douglas, of Alexandra, last night said he understood the decision to cancel the original consents was not completely overturned.

Mr Douglas and his family spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting Hayes.

Given Meridian's other projects – including a joint venture to build a 140-turbine wind farm in south-west Victoria in Australia – it would be a big ask for the state-owned enterprise to tackle Project Hayes too, he said.

"It doesn't mean the Hayes project is going to get the nod," he said.

Artist Grahame Sydney said Save Central, one of the groups opposing the project, had spoken to their lawyers and would release a statement once the decision had been read in full.

They would then outline their next steps, Sydney said.

Meridian Energy spokeswoman Claire Shaw said the energy firm was delighted and surprised the appeal was upheld.

It would take time to digest the decision, she said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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