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Court to decide farm’s fate

While Meridian Energy awaits its court date for its Eketāhuna wind farm proposal, a group of residents maintain the turbines would be in the “wrong place”.

Merdian formally lodged with the Environment Court four days after four councils’ joint s87F report – which addressed various environmental and social factors – was released on March 15.

The proposal involves placing 20 wind turbines 8km south of Eketāhuna that would generate up to 300 gigawatt hours of energy annually – enough to power 42,000 homes.

Chris Clarke – chair of the Mount Munro Protection Society [MMPS], which is against the proposal – believes Meridian opted to go through an Environment Court process rather than through a council process due to strong local opposition to the possibility of a wind farm, “especially given that this is the second time they have tried for the wind farm here”.

“The high level of protest would have made it very uncomfortable for Meridian,” Clarke said, given he claims the company went to some effort “early on to ensure that our community were excluded and not informed of their plans”.

“Some, including ourselves, found out by accident in late 2022.”

Clarke said the councils’ report suffers from a significant lack of information in key areas.

It fails to include a social impact report, the impact on freshwater ecology, adverse visual effects, construction noise, cultural effects, where aggregate would be sourced, roads used, location of the crusher, and concrete batching issues, he said.

Clarke claimed that if the application were to be approved based on the information provided, it would be a “massive miscarriage of justice – especially for the 31 residences within 2 km of the proposed wind farm, and more especially the 20 plus homes within 1.5km”.

Clarke said MMPS members are concerned that, should the Environment Court rule against Meridian’s proposal, ministers could overrule the decision via the government’s new Fast-Track Bill.

“This will have a devastating effect as any real opportunity for communities to have a say and be heard on what happens on their doorstep will be nullified,” he said.

“It has been difficult enough for us to have a say as it is – especially given the Environment Court is an expensive process – where we have to find and pay for experts to establish our case.

“Communities don’t have deep pockets and have limited resources to counter a large and powerful entity.”

“Large corporations can keep coming back, relitigating unless there are protections for communities until they get their own way.”

Clarke added that the group has had “serious difficulty” employing the right experts, as they were already “used by Meridian”.

Meridian Energy’s head of renewable development, Rebecca Knott, confirmed that a formal application was lodged with the Environment Court on March 19.

“This direct referral process is more streamlined for all parties, allowing for public participation while avoiding the cost and inefficiency of having two hearings for everyone involved,” she said.

“The councils’ s87F report on our Mt Munro proposal, and all the public input that has gone into that, will play a key part in the Environment Court hearing.

“We thank all those who made submissions and encourage them to take part in the Environment Court process.

“The Mt Munro wind farm offers tremendous benefits to the local community and wider region, as it does to the electricity system and New Zealand economy, but it’s important that all views are taken into account.

“While we carefully reviewed the s87F report, there have been no changes to our application.”

    The s87F report was prepared by Horizons Regional Council as the lead, along with Masterton District Council, Tararua District Council, and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

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