Fast-track consent for wind farm

Making coffee . . . The sun rises over stage one of the Kaiwera Downs Windfarm on Friday. Under construction 15km southeast of Gore, eight of the 10 turbines are currently feeding power into the national grid.

The growing need for renewable energy — partly to power Southland industry — is driving Contact Energy’s decision to opt for a fast-track consenting process for its wind farm.

The company plans to build a major wind farm near Slopedown, in Eastern Southland, with about 50 turbines.

In July, the company announced Minister for the Environment David Parker had agreed the project was eligible for the fast-track consenting process.

When the fast-tracking option is taken, the Environmental Protection Authority convenes a panel of experts to assess the application.

Contact head of wind and solar Matthew Cleland said the company was taking a ‘‘big picture’’ approach.

‘‘What we are trying to do at Contact and what we think is the right thing to do, is that we do need more renewable energy projects to be available to be brought online.

‘‘We are seeing demand for electricity in our country grow and it’s particularly as the country moves away from reliance on fossil fuels.’’

The wind farm project would help meet that demand.

‘‘The fast-track process is designed to make it more efficient to be able to build new renewable energy projects that are going to be needed.

‘‘That guides where we go to with our decision.’’

The demand for electricity was growing nationwide, including in Southland.

‘‘We are seeing it from a lot of the primary industries that are based in Southland where renewable electricity is a really important input . . . for things like milk processing and meat processing,’’ Mr Cleland said.

While some would be opposed to the company taking the fasttrack option, its decision should be seen from the perspective of what would be achieved if the project went ahead, Mr Cleland said.

The company had worked hard to keep the public informed about the project.

‘‘We haven’t hidden away . . . what this project is.

‘‘We try to be open and honest in what we do.’’

The company held community days and one-on-one interviews, had details of the project on its website and could be contacted by telephone and email.

There was still no guarantee the company would get consent for the wind farm, he said.

‘‘Our application and all the work that goes into it needs to be really robust.’’