Ruling on new evidence on Friday

A ruling on whether new evidence will be accepted in the middle of an appeal hearing for Meridian Energy's proposed Project Hayes wind farm is expected to be released on Friday.

The Environment Court appeal hearing panel reserved its decision at Cromwell yesterday, on whether to grant an application to hear new evidence in relation to possible cumulative effects of TrustPower's consented $400 million Mahinerangi wind farm and Project Hayes.

Judge Jon Jackson said the panel would try to make its decision by Friday, otherwise it would be issued next week.

"We'll see how we get on, doing two things at once is quite difficult. In the meantime we'll continue with the hearing," he said.

Appellant party, Maniototo Environmental Society counsel Mike Holm, lodged an application to have new cumulative effects evidence heard, which was supported by all other appellant parties.

Mr Holm said whether or not resource consent for Mahinerangi would be granted was no longer a matter unknown or of speculation, and therefore the cumulative effects were relevant in the granting of consent for Project Hayes.

"Hayes and Mahinerangi in combination will (in our submission) magnify the significance and seriousness of the adverse landscape effects in the relevant area of Central Otago," he said.

Mr Holm said claimed national benefits of Project Hayes as a renewable energy generator were diluted or nullified by the granting of consent for other wind farm developments.

Meridian counsel Andrew Beatson said as Mahinerangi's consent was conditional it was difficult to determine exactly what the wind farm development would comprise, and accordingly what cumulative effects it might have with Project Hayes.

"Meridian is concerned that the decision issued [for Mahinerangi] does not provide sufficient finality to require a cumulative effects assessment to be carried out," he said.

Mr Beatson said provision for a further hearing had been made if a decision could not be reached by TrustPower about the final number and placement of turbines at Mahinerangi, which could delay Project Hayes for an unknown amount of time if cumulative effects were to be considered.

He said cumulative effects of Project Hayes and Mahinerangi were taken into consideration during an Environment Court appeal hearing for the latter, which was granted consent regardless.

"It is submitted that the cumulative effects of both wind farms need not be reassessed again by this court, as such effects have already been considered and assessed as acceptable in the Mahinerangi hearing and decision," he said.

The Otago Regional Council took a neutral view of the application for new evidence, while the Central Otago District Council supported it.

CODC counsel Graeme Todd said such evidence would benefit the court in making a decision about whether to grant Project Hayes final consent.

Mr Todd said the possible cumulative effect of both wind farms was a relevant matter for the court to consider, and he wondered what the situation would have been if the same division of the court had decided to hear both wind farm applications.

"From a legal perspective I don't think you can ignore the Mahinerangi decision and its findings.

"I point out the wording of the decision is that it's a consent, albeit in the summary it says the consent is granted subject to certain matters," he said.

Mr Todd said at least 17 witnesses were scheduled to give evidence during the hearing's two weeks in Dunedin following this last week at Cromwell, and he did not think the hearing would finish in time.

Mr Beatson said he expected the pace of hearing proceedings to pick up, and anticipated to finish on schedule.

Until a decision for the evidence application has been made it is not known whether, or for how long, the Project Hayes appeal hearing will be delayed or extended.

 

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