New Zealand

New Zealand

Blackmail and siting consent

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New Zealand's troubled Resource Management Act (RMA) has come under further fire as more wind development stalls in the face of the RMA consents process. Windflow Technology's single turbine plans are biding time in the face of an appeal to the Environment Court by two neighbours of the Christchurch property where the turbine was to have been installed in 2001. Visual and noise factors have been cited as major issues of concern.

An independent commissioner had approved the project, but the plans will be put on hold until the court can rule, which could take up to a year. An out of court settlement could be reached, or Windflow boss Geoff Henderson may have to find another site for the first Windflow 500 turbine, which the company has both designed and hopes to start series production of. Alternative sites are available but he is hopeful of continuing with the Gebbies Pass location following discussions with the objectors.

Windflow has a contract to provide power to the local Christchurch City Council, with winter peak production sold on to Orion. Henderson says he is still set to move on further capital fund raising next year to fulfil his ambitions for a New Zealand wind turbine manufacturing industry.

There have been increasing criticisms of the RMA in recent years claiming it provides a legal opportunity for blackmail, where appeals against consents are dropped following payouts from would-be developers. Henderson is reluctant to describe his situation in these terms, but the wind community in New Zealand has been concerned for some time at the difficulties associated with the RMA.

One such company is Wind Farms Developments, headed by New Zealand Wind Energy Association president Alistair Wilson. He recently proposed a 26 turbine wind plant on the Wainuiomata hills between Baring and Pencarrow Heads, an area which has already seen one wind farm proposal knocked back by local decree. While the site, like Windflow's, is on private farmland, it is likely to raise similar issues, as the turbines would be visible from parts of the capital, Wellington. Public reaction has been mixed. Wilson says if opposition is high it will not go through the consent process.

Increasing concerns about energy supply may well, however, change opinions should New Zealanders be confronted with choosing between wind and further hydro or coal-based development, but it will be important for wind farm developers to get on-side with their local communities.

Government officials are well aware of the concerns raised over the years since the RMA went into force. As a recent report notes: "Energy efficiency and the production of energy from renewable sources are often not appropriately prioritised in resource consent processes." The environment ministry has been looking at whether the RMA should be amended, particularly with regard to the role local councils have played.

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