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Landowners vow to fight pylons

Published: 2:49PM Wednesday January 31, 2007 Source: One News/Newstalk ZB

Critics of a plan to build power pylons from Waikato to Auckland say political interference pushed the proposal through and they will fight the decision in the Environment Court.

Transpower now has the go-ahead from the Electricity Commission to build its pylons, giving Auckland a better power supply by 2011.

But landowners along the route say the commission may have been subject to outside influence and the anti-pylon fight has just begun.

Spokesman for lobby group New Era Energy Bob McQueen says the group will challenge the resource consent needed for the project. He says Transpower's plans will drive farmers out of communities.

The commission will now hold public meetings but says it will only be swayed by arguments on cost and design.

The commission released its draft decision on the proposal on Wednesday afternoon.

The decision by commissioners was not unanimous, but all agree that an upgrade of the transmission grid is essential to maintain a reliable power supply to Auckland.

Commission deputy chairman Peter Harris says Transpower's new proposal is a substantial improvement on the one they declined last year. "It is significantly more reliable. It is more flexible and it offers benefits at a lower comparable cost."

The commission denies its change of heart has anything to do with the sacking of chairman Roy Hemmingway, who left claiming the government was interfering with the commission's decisions.

The system will only run at half its capacity but will be easily upgradable in the future.

Transpower's plan involves a 220 kilovolt line that will later be able to be upgraded to 400 kilovolts. It also will mean building new towers, some as high as 70 metres.

The upgrade will largely mean building pylons 60 metres high, which is 20 metres higher than the ones currently in place.

The line will stretch from Whakamaru to South Auckland, and from there will be tunnelled into Pakuranga instead of Otahuhu - the substation which failed last June plunging Auckland into darkness.

The commission says its decision is still to be finalised and could be amended, or even revoked, depending on feedback over the next few months.

Landowners affected by the proposal remain bitterly opposed as they will have to play host to the giant pylons.

Waikato Federated Farmers delegate Stew Wadey is hoping the commission will instruct Transpower to be more receptive to negotiations with property owners. He says it is not something Transpower has done well in the past.

Under the rules, interested parties can request a public conference to discuss the draft decision before it becomes final.

The commission says it will agree to any such request and will accept written proposals before the public meeting which will probably be in March or April.

However it says it will only be swayed by arguments affecting the project's cost or engineering requirements.

"It is not a process that looks at the Resource Management Act and similar considerations," Harris says.

He says it is crucial for the whole country that Auckland's electricity supply be upgraded to meet what has been a trebling in power usage in the past 10 years.

All going to plan, Transpower hopes final approval can be given in June with the line completed by 2011.

The $800 million upgrade could end up costing consumers. Transpower chief executive Ralph Craven says there will be a very small change noticeable, but this will occur over a long period of time.