Opponents claim wind-farm win

BY JEFF NEEMS
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2009

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Opponents of Contact Energy's proposed 180-turbine wind farm on Waikato's west coast have claimed a victory after the electricity firm said it would seek an adjournment of the hearing into the controversial project.

Contact will ask for a 12-month adjournment at Monday's board of inquiry proceedings so it can carry out more research, geotechnical assessments and surveying work.

Despite the delay, the company said it remained committed to the wind farm.

Opponents have greeted the news with delight.

Speaking from Denmark, Te Akau farmer Ross Townshend said he believed Contact's decision was "a significant victory" for opponents. "This reinforces what everybody has been saying, that this was underdone and undercooked," he said.

"They've done this entirely to themselves. There's nothing they've got right, it's been a mess from the get-go."

Mr Townshend said the 12-month adjournment gave opponents more time to fight the project, and he would be demanding Contact forfeit its right to the board of inquiry and go through the usual Resource Management Act process "just like everybody else".

He also wanted an end to the "call-in" by former Environment Minister Trevor Mallard, who believed the project was of national significance.

Contact Energy spokesman Johnathan Hill said the company was still committed to the project, but he did not want to even "hazard a guess" as to whether the adjournment would be granted.

Mr Hill said the viability of the project was not in doubt. He described it as "a good project, and a very important one for Contact and the country".

"What we've seen here, for a project of this size, is a need for a very high level of detail," he said. "What we're saying here in this application is that, in order to meet that level of detail, we're requesting a 12-month adjournment to allow us to get that material, and then present that to the board."

But farmer and tourism operator Simon Worsp agreed with Mr Townshend that the adjournment was a victory for opponents.

Mr Worsp's Matira property, north of Te Akau, would be less than one kilometre from one of the giant turbines, and his tourism operation would be affected by construction of the wind farm.

"Any disruption to the local environment would be a disruption to my businesses," he said. "One of the reasons people like coming out to Adventure Waikato is the isolation, the rural atmosphere and so on... if that's compromised, maybe they'll think twice about coming."

He remained opposed to the wind farm because he believed there were better options for sustainable and renewable energy, and was sceptical about the "motives behind it".

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Mr Hill said the adjournment, if granted, was not an effort by Contact to strengthen its case. "It's recognition this is a complex and large application, and we want to go away and get additional material... on areas that have been raised by the panel and submitters."

The company was "absolutely not" stalling for time. Contact had not been surprised by opposition to its project. "There's a high level of public interest in every project we develop," he said.

- Waikato Times

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