Death Of A NZ Wind Farm—Did NIMBYism Do It?

A proposed wind project, big enough to power every home in New Zealand’s South Island, came to an end this month as a new CEO took over Meridian Energy and canned the project, that had battled a group of high profile opponents in court for six years.

Project Hayes was a 176-turbine, 633-megawatt (MW) farm Meridian wanted to build on the Lammermoor Range in Central Otago. According to papers filed at Wind Energy.org the reason for the abandonment is that Meridian has more commercially attractive projects in the works. It spent $1.8 million in court against opponents.

Meridian currently owns and operates three wind farms in New Zealand, along with nine older hydro stations, and brought solar to South Pacific neighbor Tonga. Other than the $2 billion Otago wind farm just abandoned, it has several more wind farms with permitting granted, along with one in Antarctica.

Wind Turbines

image via Shutterstock

But Meridian Energy is also one of four nationally owned energy assets that were recently placed on the chopping block by New Zealand’s relatively right-wing government—the National Party—that made energy privatization a key part of their reelection platform.

Despite almost universal opposition by citizens of all political persuasions to this prospect—”Don’t sell our assets!” was seen everywhere here leading up to the election—New Zealanders managed to re-elect the very party that proposed to sell off the energy assets, thanks to a complicated multiparty political system that, by  splitting up the left wing vote, enables a kind of minority right-wing rule.

Under the asset sales proposal, private shareholders could own as much as 49 percent of the four main New Zealand-owned energy companies, which have long been weighted towards the green end of the energy spectrum—and individual owners could potentially own as much as 20 percent—presumably with the aim of redirecting the energy companies to exploit dirtier fuels.

Hydro and geothermal energy has long powered most of New Zealand. An opposition party, the Green Party, has claimed that the pending asset sale plan played a part in Meridian Energy’s decision to abandon the huge wind farm, implying that the new CEO, Mark Binns, will be the harbinger of a new anti-wind trend in the newly privatized energy companies.

To complicate the energy issue more, the indigenous Maori have raised the possibility that privatized energy companies may encounter legal obstacles to exploiting energy sources. Ever since the 18th century, New Zealand Pakehas (white settlers) have been generously accommodated in New Zealand by the Maori natives only under the legally binding Treaty of Waitangi, which laid out rules including that Maori assets such as land and water cannot be sold without Maori approval.

Susan Kraemer enjoys writing to publicize the many great solutions for climate change that we can find if we just put our minds to it. She covers renewable policy and clean energy for CleanTechnica and GreenProphet and green building at HomeDesignFind. She recently moved home to Waiheke Island where her writing is now powered by the 80% renewable electricity that powers New Zealand.

    • Tonyr

      Apart from the difficulties due to NIMBYism and the financial return of the project, most of the other points in the article are just plain wrong.u00a0 There is no new ownership of Meridian (new minority ownership is years away, if it happens) and the explanation of the Treaty of Waitangi is very inaccurate.nnAnd in terms of the oponents, many were not in the back yard of the project.nnHowever I do agreed with an implied outcome of this decision, that NZ has reached the high point of renewable energy and it will be downhill from now.

      • You are right, I later refer to the new CEO of Meridian – I know that the CEO is not the owner, my carelessness.u00a0nnAs far as how the Treaty impacts the ability of the National Party to actually sell energy assets when these all involve land and water that it may not really “own”, how would you summarize that complicated rule in a few sentences?u00a0nnAs to your last point, I hope not!

        • Tonyr

          Attempts to summarise the Treaty of Waitangi, or part of it, in a few sentences usually end badly.u00a0 However I will stick my head over the parapet and have a go….nnThere are two components of the treaty that impact land and water.u00a0 First, that Maori will be subject to the protection of the Crown from a legal perspective, so they have the right to ownership of assets (including land) that they have bought or have historical rights to.nnSecond is the concept of historical use.u00a0 Any resource that Maori were actively using prior to signature of the Treaty cannot be removed without their agreement.u00a0 In the case of fishing quota, they have been assigned 20% of the available quota, plus the right to gather as much seafood as required to satisfy the needs of their family.nnIn terms of the SOE partial sale, and in the case of the generators, it is hard to see how Maori rights will be impacted.u00a0 The land that SOEs directly use is either owned by them, or covered by an appropriate lease.u00a0 Rights to use water have been assigned in the same way for SOEs as for private and publically listed companies.nnThere is currently some strong debate around the inclusion of Clause 9 of the SOE act “Nothing in this law shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi,”, the Government has proposed not requiring that clause in any law empowering the sale of future SOE assets (it has not applied in past such sales) while Maori and the opposition parties have demanded its retention.u00a0 This against a background where National won the election with a very high party vote, but polls have suggested as much as 85% of the voters don’t want SOE assets to be sold.

          • Thanks! So, despite talk of the Maori being in a position to put a damper on asset sales, it would seem that you do not think they in fact are?nnhttp://gordoncampbell.scoop.co.nz/2012/02/07/gordon-campbell-on-the-maori-response-to-the-soe-asset-sales/ (SOE = State Owned Enterprises, aka the energy assets)

      • After further research of all the opposition to this farm, I have edited this to read “opponents” rather than “local residents” in the last paragraph, as you are quite correct, they are by no means all local.