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The Environment Court has refused consent for what would have been New Zealand's biggest windfarm, Project Hayes in Central Otago.

The decision is a victory for several high-profile New Zealanders with links to the area, including former All Black Anton Oliver, artist Grahame Sydney, poet laureate Brian Turner and another former All Black and business executive, David Kirk.

In its decision, the court stressed the risk to outstanding landscape Lammermoor Range, 70km northwest of Dunedin, and questioned whether there had been sufficient alternative sites considered.

Meridian Energy said it was disappointed. It had spent about $10 million in planning and preliminary work for the project, which would have had 176 turbines and cost $2 billion.

Consent was granted to the power company in 2006 and 2007, but an appeal was subsequently taken to the Environment Court.

A hearing began in May 2008 and concluded in February this year.

Meridian spokesman Alan Seay said the company would be assessing the decision in detail to consider its potential responses.

It has 15 days to lodge an appeal but it may only be on matters of law.

The 630MW windfarm was planned to be big enough to power every home in the South Island.

The first stage would produce about 150MW, with Meridian building more turbines as demand increased.

However, the project was opposed by local residents who wanted to protect the tussock-clad ranges from 160m-high turbines and 12m-wide access roads.

In all 11 parties opposed the project.

Last year Kirk paid for an advert in a Sunday newspaper which featured a defaced version of a landscape painting by Sydney under the headline "100 per cent Vandalism".

Wind Energy Association chief executive Fraser Clark said the decision could set a worrying precedent for other proposed windfarms, given the weight placed on an "outstanding landscape".

It would also be difficult for power companies to present a fully accurate picture of what alternatives there were, especially as they did not know details of their rivals' plans.

Project Hayes is the second big knockback in the lower South Island for Meridian. It cancelled its $1.2 billion Project Aqua hydro development further north on the lower reaches of the Waitaki in March 2004 after strong opposition from some of the same figures involved in the present fight.