By Scott MacLeod



MEREMERE - A plan to convert a north Waikato power station into a rubbish-burning plant has finally been scrapped after an 18-month battle for resource consent.



Olivine NZ yesterday confirmed that it had canned its $223 million scheme to re-fire the Meremere station to burn rubbish and generate electricity. It had also shelved plans for a similar but smaller plant in Gisborne.



Managing director Warwick Davies said Olivine had terminated its agreement to buy the Meremere station, but still wanted to be involved with waste-to-energy plants here and overseas.

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The controversial plan had angered many locals, who feared the plant would pump toxins and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. However, Olivine claimed its plan was safe and would give much-needed jobs to the area.



Olivine spokesmen refused to say why the company had pulled out of Meremere, but resource-consent talks with three councils have been stalled for more than a year.



Last year, Olivine claimed that it had been charged too much for the consent process and took Environment Waikato to court. It won a $31,000 refund, but little progress has since been made at gaining consent.



Spokesman Craig Jepson said Olivine was considering more legal action against Environment Waikato. It was also negotiating another waste-to-energy deal somewhere in the South Pacific.



He confirmed that Olivine had dropped its Gisborne plan to burn up to 320,000 tonnes of waste a year, because of local opposition. That scheme would have cost $78 million to $90 million.



Environment Waikato staff said they had heard nothing about Olivine pulling out of Meremere.



The plan was to burn up to one million tonnes of trash a year, generating nearly half as much electricity as the Huntly Power Station.



Opponent Lyn Milnes, who farms an organic block 4km from the plant, said she had expected the plan to fall over because so little progress had been made recently.



"They've run out of steam," she said. "We knew it was dead in the water."



Olivine paid a $1 million deposit to ECNZ in May 1997 as part of $17.2 million to buy the plant. It has since been required to pay $1 million every six months as refundable instalments.



It was unclear yesterday whether those instalments had been paid, but ECNZ spinoff Genesis Power said the agreement had ceased on August 16. Its chief executive, Murray Jackson, said from Australia that Genesis was reviewing its options for Meremere.



Olivine's opponents are now bracing themselves to fight Envirowaste's plan for a rubbish dump at Hampton Downs, just 5km from Meremere. That resource consent battle will start on Tuesday.