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Meridian Energy's application for its proposed $1.5 billion Project Hayes wind farm development on the Lammermoor Range has been put off until next year.
An Environment Court appeal hearing for the largest wind farm development in the Southern Hemisphere was adjourned at Cromwell yesterday, to resume in January.
At what was to be the last of four weeks in the initial six-week hearing, Judge Jon Jackson granted an application to present further evidence regarding the possible cumulative effects of Project Hayes and TrustPower's consented $400 million Mahinerangi wind farm.
"Mahinerangi may, and I emphasise may, have cumulative or a cumulative effect when constructed, with this proposal [Project Hayes] on the Lammermoor Range and its surrounding environment. The Mahinerangi decision appears to change the environment which is the setting for Meridian's application," he said.
The ruling came as a blow to Meridian Energy, which had hoped to have a decision issued as soon as possible.
Meridian counsel Andrew Beatson said the current projections of the exchange rate would mean delays would have "massive implications" for the company.
"We need the hearing to continue as quickly as it can," Mr Beatson said.
Judge Jackson said regardless of a hearing delay it would have been unlikely that a decision was issued this year.
"Due to the current court's workload it was always going to be difficult for us to issue a decision before Christmas, but because of the new timetable the decision will probably come faster once the hearing has been finished," he said.
Judge Jackson said the Environment Court panel preferred to vacate the scheduled two weeks of hearings in Dunedin this month so the remainder could be heard in one sitting of the court, allowing all further evidence to be fresh in the minds of commissioners and himself when determining a final decision.
"We will go on to the bitter end until we stop," he said.
Judge Jackson said while new evidence would be accepted in terms of possible cumulative effects from the Maniototo Environmental Society which lodged the application, it also provided an opportunity for other parties to cement their arguments for or against Project Hayes.
"These proceedings involve several different matters of national interest so we should give all parties the opportunity to call all evidence they wish to [in relation to the application] in the change of circumstance.
"We have also been given little specific quantified evidence as to all the public benefits and costs of a wind farm on the Lammermoor Range by the Crown."
Upland Landscape Protection Society counsel Ewan Carr had expressed his desire for an extension in the hearing, as he was struggling with resources, time and communication with potential witnesses.
Judge Jackson said Mr Carr would have now have the time sort out his case, although he warned there would be no further extensions, unless in exemplary circumstances, and even then notice would have to be given.
"Parties are warned that no extensions will be granted . . . if you don't have the evidence or witnesses in time then you will be out.
"Part of the reason to vacate the Dunedin fixtures was to give parties with limited pockets more time to prepare," Judge Jackson said.
He also said evidence had been limited in relation to the potential relevant factors which might affect the benefits and costs of a wind farm on the proposed site, and the cost of back-up generation in both the short and long-term future.
"As well as this is the cost of putting too many wind eggs in the Otago and Southland basket, with the possibility they may prove infertile at the same time.
"Accordingly, we grant leave to parties to call further evidence as to the cumulative effects of the Mahinerangi and Lammermoor Range projects in regard to the landscape, infrastructure, efficient use of energy, energy capacity, reliability and security of supply, and the use of resources in general."
He said the parties involved should not draw too much from his decision to grant the application for new evidence.
"Nothing in this decision should be taken as any decision or comment on the merit of any party's case, or as any indication of the court's final decision.
The evidence application has been granted for fairness," he said.
The Environment Court appeal hearing for Project Hayes will resume on January 19, at a place and time yet to be confirmed.