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Compulsory acquisition powers not for private co.s

Compulsory acquisition powers not for private companies

Green Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons today said a request by Meridian Energy for new powers to compulsorily acquire land for Project Aqua would open the floodgates for private electricity generators to force landowners to sell their properties.

Meridian Energy has made the first application to the Environment Ministry for powers that would allow the company to compulsorily acquire private property that it wants for a proposed hydro scheme on the Waitaki River in Otago. These powers would also enable it to bypass local authority processes for land use consents.

"This application could set a really serious precedent," said Ms Fitzsimons. "Meridian is actually trying to secure the right to seize land in the same way as Government departments used the Public Works Act to acquire land that was deemed to be needed in the national interest.

"These powers were used to ensure that essential infrastructural assets were put in place in an era when it was deemed that the need for big infrastructure projects over-rode democratic rights," she said.

"These powers were initially available only to the State. As a result of privatisations they are now available to private companies like Telecom and electricity lines companies. Generators are currently excluded because power stations are not networks.

"Granting it to Meridian, an SOE, would make it difficult to decline the powers for Contact, an overseas-owned generator, for its next gas fired power station. This further tips the balance for new power supply and against energy efficiency and small-scale renewables for which no such concessions are available."

Meridian has applied to the Environment Ministry for status as a network operator for its proposed scheme. If granted, Meridian could then apply directly to the Environment Minister to be declared a requiring authority. In Parliament today Pete Hodgson, on behalf of the Environment Minister, refused to rule out the concession.

"The concept of requiring authorities over-riding the normal processes of the RMA and fair negotiations with landowners about purchase of their properties is outdated. No other country in the world gives this power to private companies.

"The Greens are calling on the Environment Minister to review, with a view to abolishing, requiring authority status generally," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"I'm surprised that Meridian, which positions itself as a company that complies with strict triple bottom line accounting concepts, would seek to over-ride the wishes of the community like this."

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