Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Late last year, the Environment Court rejected Meridian Energy's proposal for a 630MW wind farm in the Lammermoor Range in Central Otago, finding that its effect on a nationally significant landscape was too high and there were other alternative sites Meridian could pursue. Today, the High Court upheld an appeal against the latter part of that decision, ruling that the Environment Court erred when it compared the environmental effects of Project Hayes with theoretical alternatives. It has not granted the consent, but instead sent it back to the Environment Court to be reconsidered on its own merits. The upshot: Hayes gets another chance.

I've always been of two minds about this project. On the one hand, I support wind power as the clean, cheap alternative, and a wind farm of such size it would make a significant difference to the sustainability of our energy system. On the other, Central Otago really is a significant landscape, and one I don't think would be improved by turbines. So I wasn't really upset when the Environment Court rejected the plan. But on the gripping hand, the Environment Court has to get it right, and has to use a fair process in doing so. If that process was wrong, then sending it back is the right thing to do.

The Environment Court will now have to reconsider Project Hayes on its own merits, looking at the actual proposal, without the cop-out of "you could build it somewhere else". The landscape may still win here, or it may not. But that's what the RMA process is designed to do: reach a judgement on the competing values of development and the environment. And whatever the outcome, the court will have to reach a decision on landscape values without fudging - and that benefits us all.