Meridian lodges appeal

Meridian Energy is appealing an Environment Court decision declining consents for its proposed $2 billion Project Hayes wind farm in Central Otago.

It had until 5pm yesterday to lodge its appeal, which could only be made on points of law, with the High Court.

Opponents of the wind farm said yesterday they were disappointed but not surprised Meridian had appealed.

It was lodged with the High Court at Dunedin about 4pm yesterday.

Upland Landscape Protection Society spokesman Ewan Carr said he would study the 21-page notice of appeal and start gathering resources to oppose it during the High Court process.

Mr Carr said he thought the Environment Court's decision was thorough, but accepted it was Meridian's legal right to appeal.

"We can, and will, be heard and will muster the necessary resources to do so, based on what points Meridian has appealed on," Mr Carr said.

Cambrian artist and Save Central campaigner Grahame Sydney said the appeal made it harder for small opponents, with limited funding, to maintain the fight.

"It feels awfully like the well-moneyed corporate determined to bulldoze on and get their way regardless of everything, and we are going to have to hope for public support in order to have legal representation upholding that decision," he said.

It was "inevitable" Meridian would appeal so as not to "lose face" and accept defeat, Mr Sydney said.

"It feels as though there is a stubborn arrogance to this which is disappointing, but not surprising - it would have been extraordinary for Meridian not to appeal - but we think the decision will be upheld."

Meridian spokesman Alan Seay said the decision declining consents set the bar too high for any potential developers of major infrastructure.

"We think that this decision, if it's left to stand, places a major impediment in the way, not just for renewable energy development in New Zealand, but any development project of any significance.

With any major infrastructure projects there are environmental concerns but it's not the answer to set the bar so high on environmental issues that it becomes impossible to get consent for them, and we think this decision comes very close to doing that," Mr Seay said.

In its 350-page decision, issued on November 6, the Environment Court upheld an appeal against the granting of initial consents for the wind farm, effectively cancelling those consents.

It stated the adverse effect on the proposed site's landscape outweighed the benefits of renewable electricity generation.

The 176-turbine wind farm on 92sq km of land would be the largest in the southern hemisphere, with capacity to produce about 630MW of energy each year: enough to power about 278,000 average homes.

Mr Seay said the decision set a pre- cedent that would require any applicant to provide information, not just on the project for which it was trying to get consent, but on other potential projects regardless of whether they had been confirmed.

"That information is very hard to be able to get hold of, if accessible at all, and that's the crux of our appeal.

"We fear the decision would set a paralysis for projects as applicants would find it too difficult and time-consuming to seek consents," he said.

It would be up to the High Court to set a date for proceedings to begin, he said.

In 2006, Meridian lodged resource consent applications for Project Hayes with the Central Otago District Council, and the following year with the Otago Regional Council.

Several individuals and environmental and recreational groups opposed the consents being granted and appealed to the Environment Court.

The appeal hearing began in May 2008 and was completed in February this year, after three adjournments.

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