Meridian Energy will appeal the Environment Court's refusal of resource consent for the Project Hayes wind farm, saying it will block nationally-important infrastructure projects if left to stand.
Chief Executive Tim Lusk says the Environment Court decision on the wind farm in Central Otago's Lammermoor Range raises the bar on all big projects with an impact on the landscape to a point where it will be almost impossible to gain consent for infrastructure developments the country badly needs.
"It's not just the implications that this decision has for Project Hayes or other big renewable energy projects that concerns us. This decision represents a major obstacle for all manner of infrastructure projects such as roads or transmission lines; anything that has a significant impact on the environment.
"It's an inescapable fact that developments of this kind do have an impact on the environment - there's no avoiding it. But it is not a solution to simply set the bar on environmental standards so high that it's not possible to consent projects that New Zealand needs if we're to build the kind of economy and society most of us aspire to."
Mr Lusk says with the Project Hayes decision the Environment Court has effectively created a new test for projects to overcome which is unworkable; which will result in planning paralysis and in conflict between organisations wanting to advance separate projects.
"Under the decision as it stands a comprehensive and explicit cost-benefit analysis of a project is now required. To satisfy this test an applicant must not only quantify all the costs and benefits of its project, it must also meet an economic test which requires evaluation against other hypothetical projects. This expands the RMA process into an economic management system controlling all new generation and is a significant hurdle for any future applications."
"The information required to even attempt to assess alternatives is huge; much or most of it will not be readily available to any applicant or to councils and courts as decision makers. Some of it will be unknown."
Mr Lusk says to require developers to outline the net benefits of their proposals relative to other potential proposals will result in central planning by resource consent process. One of the fundamental problems with this approach is that the Court has no ability to give effect to its decisions as to which are the next best projects to build.
The likely consequences of this approach to consenting are paralysis through RMA, or less desirable projects getting built, not because they are better for New Zealand as a whole, but because it is easier to get consent for them.
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