Meridian ditches Project Hayes

Wind farm opponents (from left) Graye Shattky, of St Bathans,  Brian Turner, of Oturehua, and...
Wind farm opponents (from left) Graye Shattky, of St Bathans, Brian Turner, of Oturehua, and Grahame Sydney, of Cambrian, celebrate the news Meridian has shelved Project Hayes, which was to be the biggest wind farm in the southern hemisphere and would have destroyed an outstanding landscape, they said. Photo by Sarah Marquet.
Six years after it announced plans for a controversial $2 billion wind farm on the Lammermoor Range and after spending $8.9 million on the project, Meridian Energy has pulled the pin on them.

Meridian chief executive Mark Binns said yesterday it was a "prudent commercial decision" to drop Project Hayes, as the company had other higher-priority projects.

The latest chapter in the drawn-out wrangle over whether the southern hemisphere's largest wind farm should go ahead took the project's opponents by surprise, as they were preparing for another round of legal proceedings. Meridian had to file evidence in the Environment Court by the end of this month for those.

Mr Binns said Meridian was withdrawing its resource consent applications that were before the Environment Court.

"Although we didn't have a date set for the next round of court hearings, we were conscious of wanting to avoid extra costs and avoiding the other parties spending their time and money as well on that," he said.

The proposed 633MW, 176-turbine wind farm was opposed by Central Otago-based environmental groups and individuals, most joining forces under umbrella organisation Save Central. Their concerns were mostly about the visual impact of the project and they queried the need for the large-scale proposal.

Save Central was relieved the project had been shelved.

"This collective body represents environmental groups and individuals who have opposed the scheme because of its inappropriate scale and the consequent visual and environmental damage it would undoubtedly wreak on an outstanding landscape, the Lammermoor Range," spokesman Graye Shattky said.

"All credit to new Meridian CEO Mark Binns for weighing the costs and benefits of the case and seeing no profit in continuing."

The group, which has spent more than $400,000 on the campaign, has called for an inquiry into the original rationale for the project and the "consequent enormous costs, not only to the taxpayer but also by way of the price paid by Central Otago communities and families".

The site, 70km northwest of Dunedin and 40km south of Ranfurly, covered 92sq km on the upland part of five high country stations - Rocklands, Lammermoor, Glen Ayre, Logan Burn and Loganbrae. Meridian owned Logan Burn and held agreements with the other landowners to allow for the construction and operation of the wind farm.

Mr Binns, who took up his new role as CEO on Monday, said the project had not been abandoned, "but we have no immediate plans to resurrect it".

"We can't rule out future projects that might come to fruition, but they won't be Project Hayes in its current form."

Asked whether it might be revised and scaled back, he said that was "very unlikely".

The project was a high priority commercially for Meridian in 2006 and 2007, but the company's portfolio now contained other options which made better financial sense.

Mr Binns said $8.9 million had been spent by Meridian on Project Hayes so far and there was uncertainty, with court proceedings still pending, as to whether it would get approval and how long that process would take.

In April 2004, Meridian dropped the $1.2 billion Project Aqua scheme on the Waitaki River because of major opposition. It spent $45 million on the project and another $50 million buying land in the Waitaki Valley.



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