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Meridian scraps plans for 633MW New Zealand wind farm

New Zealand’s Meridian Energy has scrapped plans for a 633MW wind farm after a five-year planning battle.

Meridian says it is withdrawing consent applications for the proposed NZ$2bn ($1.6bn) wind farm, known as Project Hayes, following a review of its renewable development portfolio.

The development in the Central Otago region of New Zealand's South Island would have been the nation’s biggest wind farm.

But the 176-turbine project encountered determined opposition because of its location in an area of natural beauty.

Meridian launched the project in 2006 and won local planning consents the following year. But appeals forced the project back to New Zealand’s Environmental Court and it has remained in a legal quagmire ever since.

Meridian chief executive Mark Binns says: “Our portfolio has developed considerably and our review showed us that other projects now are a higher commercial priority than Project Hayes.

“Meridian now has a number of potential development options that would be progressed ahead of Project Hayes.

"Withdrawing the consent applications is not only the most prudent commercial decision for Meridian, but also avoids prolonging uncertainty about this project for the community and the project’s supporters,” Binns says.

Meridian, New Zealand’s biggest power generator, operates four wind farms in the country and one in Australia.

Contact Energy has consent for a 504MW wind farm on New Zealand’s North Island.

The nation has a total of 16 wind farms with a 615MW installed capacity, says the New Zealand Wind Energy Association (NZWEA).

The axing of Project Hayes raises questions about the country’s landscape-planning process, says Eric Pyle, NZWEA chief executive.

“One of the disappointing things about this whole project was that the area it was to be built in had not been declared an outstanding landscape.

"The local councils had done a fairly comprehensive land assessment not long before Project Hayes proposal was made, and so you have to ask questions about the veracity of the landscape planning process in New Zealand,” Pyle says.

“We are very keen to see...landscapes more clearly identified to give the industry more certainty.”

New Zealand is blessed with tremendous wind resources – in a sense wind developers are spoilt for choice – Pyle adds.

“I don’t think we’re through the process yet of really exploring New Zealand and really understanding the sites. That will take us a few years to do.”

The whole exercise cost Meridian, which is state-owned but slated for privatisation, NZ$8.9m, a company spokeswoman confirms.

The company had not identified a turbine supplier.

Note: Update adds reaction from NZWEA