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Drawn-out approval for Awhitu wind farm

Media release

23 December 2005

Drawn-out approval for Awhitu wind farm raises questions about RMA

A two year consenting process for a small wind farm could turn away potential investors and shut down small scale wind farm developers, the New Zealand Wind Energy Association said today.

Yesterday, following a long and drawn out consent process, the last stage of which has seen the consent conditions agreed between all parties, the Environment Court finally gave its approval to Genesis Energy’s 18 MW Awhitu wind farm near Waiuku just south of Auckland.

Awhitu was first announced as a project more than two years ago by Genesis Energy. A formal Resource Consent application was submitted in early 2004 and, after the decision of the local council was referred to the Environment Court, the consent was only granted today more than two years after the process began.

NZWEA Chief Executive, James Glennie, said while the approval is very good news, the process has been too protracted and expensive.

“This decision is great news for the wind industry in that sets some very clear legal precedents regarding the contribution that wind energy can make to economic growth and development.

“Almost all of the commonly held misconceptions about wind turbines (noise, visual impact, effects on horses, economic cost, environmental benefits and more) have been tested very thoroughly in the Environment Court. In all instances the negative assertions regarding wind energy have been found to be incorrect or insignificant,” he said.

However Mr Glennie went on to sound a note of caution about the expense, in time and money, that the developer has been required to incur simply in getting a resource consent.

“A mature and well balanced market will see a number of both large and small wind farms spread around the country. However the reality of the current RMA process and a point well illustrated by what has happened with the Awhitu project, is that the costs of obtaining a resource consent are similar irrespective of the size of the wind farm being considered.

“What this means from a practical perspective is, that with very high consenting costs as a proportion of total project costs, small wind farm developers are, in effect, shut out of the market.

“The Awhitu process should be of real concern to Government and all others who want to see the responsible development of renewable generation,” said Mr Glennie.

“This country clearly needs more generation but the RMA process is inhibiting the development of the distributed generation sector of the market. This is a significant weakness of the current RMA process and is something that must be addressed if the wind industry and, indeed, distributed generation are to reach their full potential.”

In 2004 the wind industry was the fastest growing energy sector in New Zealand with growth of more than 300 per cent. 170 MW is now installed and operating. 90 MW is currently under construction, more than 400 MW of new capacity has been consented in the last 12 months and just over 600 MW is currently in the resource consent process.

The NZWEA has more than 60 members including some of New Zealand’s largest electricity generators and lines companies.

ENDS

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