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September 8, 2008 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Wind Turbines

On Monday 1 September Contact Energy lodged a resource consent application for its Waitahora wind farm with the Tararua District Council.

As my father, sheep and beef farmer Shaun Currie, co-owns and manages Waewaepa Station, where part of the proposed wind farm is to be located, I am inherently biased. However, I have kept this report free of my comment and opinions, and endeavored to give a fair and balanced account of events, and let people speak for themselves. Any of my own incoherent ravings are saved for a fictional follow-up report, next week.

If the application is approved, the $500 million, 177 megawatt wind farm could be operational by 2013. The wind farm would generate enough clean, renewable electricity to power up to 86,000 homes, Contact said. As part of the application, Contact submitted 16 studies, exploring environmental effects, impact on ecosystems, noise and traffic assessments, economic benefits, and other aspects of the project. These studies can be viewed on Contact’s web site. 59 of the proposed 65 turbines would be situated on Waewaepa Station, in the Puketoi ranges of the Waitahora Valley (east of Pahiatua and southeast of Dannevirke). The remaining turbines would be built on a neighbouring farm, owned by a private trust.

Contact Energy Chief Executive David Baldwin said he was pleased with the level of support for the project.

Dannevirke Chamber of Commerce chairman, and thirdgeneration owner of the fruit and veggie shop Suresh Patel, said it would be good for the community. As reported in the 24 July issue of the Dannevirke News, “We certainly need a major project like this after the freezing works closed, and the whole district will benefit.”

However, some locals have expressed anger at the plans and have formed an opposition group. It has been claimed that the noise of the turbines could be audible from Dannevirke: “The rumble will be heard all around here and maybe even in Dannevirke when the wind farm is built,” an unnamed landowner said in the 16 August Dannevirke News.

The Dannevirke News of August 16 quoted an un-named landowner; “It’s definitely not all beer and skittles and a lot of people are very concerned about their asset values.”

Group spokesman and local osteopath Kim Phelps said that the turbines would destroy the natural beauty of the area, and set a dangerous precedent.

“These guys are just the tip of the iceberg. Let them in and they are going to take the whole thing – and then that’s the ranges gone, to an industrial park,” he said.

Mr Phelps said the effect on the local ecosystem, in particular the Mangatoro and Mangatakoto streams, and the placing of pylons for a transmission route to the main grid were among the group’s 10 areas of concern (quoted by Michelle Duff in the Manawatu Standard, Monday 25 August).

Contact Energy spokesman Jonathan Hill said “we are very mindful of the presence of high quality waterways in the area and will employ best practice sediment control measures to protect them. Furthermore, we will be undertaking additional fencing and riparian planting around key catchments to enhance these waterways. No native bush or scrub will be impacted by the project, no habitats for native species will be destroyed and no areas of archeological significance have been identified within the wind farm area.”

Mr Phelps’ claimed in the 19 August Dannevirke News that the turbines would be “highly visible” from Dannevirke to the coast.

Mr Hill said this was wrong “on both counts”.

Previously, when I asked for Mr Phelps’ thoughts, explaining that I wanted a range of viewpoints, he told me his position would not be compatible with mine. “There are a lot of choices being taken away from us. Our choice is being taken away. And that’s the interview,” he said.

The opposition group has held community meetings to discuss the windmills.

Mr Currie, who has farmed in the area for 28 years, did not attend the latest meeting, on Friday 29 August. “They must have forgotten to send my invitation,” he said.

Mr Currie did attend the first of these meetings on Thursday 14 August. About 50 locals attended, and some people were opposed to the idea, but it was a classic case of “not in my backyard” syndrome, Mr Currie said (quoted by Michelle Duff in the Manawatu Standard of Friday 15 August).

He said Mr Phelps declared his plans to run a homestay on his land (adjacent to Mr Currie’s), and that his potential guests would not want to see windmills on the hills of Mr Currie’s farm. Mr Currie said that he answered many questions from people, concerning the wind farm, and told some of those who were opposed that he would be happy to pull out a turbine for each one of them who turned off their power. Mr Phelps’ wife advised Mr Currie not to attend subsequent meetings, he said.

The aforementioned meeting took place previous to an open day held by Contact at the Waewaepa cattle yards 10am-2pm on Saturday 16 August.

A large marquee was set up in the yard, containing large composite photographs of the proposed turbines in the landscape; a projector with aerial images of the farm and the positions of the turbines; catered food and drinks provided by Dannevirke High School (as fundraising for a classics trip to Europe); papers and pamphlets with frequently asked questions, noise projections, and other information specific to this wind farm project; and seven Contact staff available to take questions.

Over a hundred people signed the visitor’s book, and Mr Currie estimated around two hundred people had come through the marquee during the day.

The Contact staff answered questions and spoke with locals throughout the day, which was free of fisticuffs, despite one local, farmer Kevin Taylor, saying Contact “might have to set up a boxing ring” (quoted by Michelle Duff in the Manawatu Standard, Friday 15 August).

Mr Taylor said the farm would “bastardise” the landscape and potentially affect his horse breeding business. In the same article he said of Contact’s public relations: “they have put all the glossy brochures and all the bullshit and jellybeans or whatever you want to call it… They go off and pick people off one by one and get them signed up and tight-lipped. It’s almost like the mafia.”

Waewaepa stock manager Mark Nichols, and shepherd Ben Lilley, said Mr Taylor told them that their dogs would stop working once the windmills were installed.

Mr Lilley said his dogs had performed normally when he had run them under the Te Apiti wind farm (east of Ashurst).

Manager of Hall Block (the first wind farm in New Zealand: initiated in 1999; west of Woodville) Roger Buckley, said living and working on a farm with windmills was “just normal” and “you never hear it”. The suggestion that dogs would stop working was “rubbish” he said.

Another member of the opposition group, local accountant Tania Simmons (interviewed at the open day) said she objected to “a range of issues.”

“New Zealand’s number one domestic product is tourism … they don’t come here to see our clean green windmills,” she said.

She referred to possible health effects of noise. “It’s a technology that hasn’t been around for very long, and people don’t understand the health effects… Inappropriate levels [of noise] can have a range of effects on people,” she said.

The Wind Energy Handbook by Tony Burton, David Sharpe, Nick Jenkins and Ervin Bossanyi records that “The use of windmills (or wind turbines) to generate electricity can be traced back to the late 19th century with the 12kW Smith-Putnam wind turbine constructed in the USA and the research undertaken by LaCour in Denmark.”

Contact said that the noise within 300 metres of a working windmill was no greater than a kitchen refrigerator, and the windmills were required not to exceed 45 decibels within residential areas.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority Chairman Gerry Te Kapa Coates said “From a few hundred meters away the sound from turbines will be no more than the sound level in the average living room – if you can hear them at all over the sound of the wind.”

Mrs Simmons said: “My personal position is that I don’t want to see the project proceed.”

She did not say exactly what or how she would be protesting. “At the moment we are information collecting. We don’t know enough. Contact is providing as much information as they can.” She stated that “they [wind farms] have been successfully opposed in the past.”

Contact Energy planning consultant Stephen Daysh said that there was only so much you could do with people who were “already angry. They won’t listen to you because they don’t want to listen to you.”

Mr Daysh said that if people appealed to the Environmental Court, they had to have “real issues” backed up by evidence. “You can’t just say ‘I don’t like it’ if you have no evidence.” The most common concerns were visual and noise, he said.

Noise was managed by placing the turbines away from people’s homes, but the visual aspect was unavoidable. The windmills would be up to 100 metres high, with blades up to 50 metres long. However, he said the visual impact of the windmills would be minimised.

The site was remote, there were few close neighbours, and views from the majority of surrounding houses were blocked by slopes or vegetation, Contact said. The windmills would be white or grey in colour, to minimize visibility against a cloudy backdrop.

Mrs Simmons confirmed that she would be voting National, and said “I’m a firm believer that New Zealand should be looking at fewer, more significant power generation options, the thermal aspects, things that the Labour government currently has a moratorium on.”

Recent reports have suggested that the National Party’s plan to overturn the ban on new thermal and gas fired stations could affect renewable projects such as this. However, investors have said the emissions trading scheme and the drive toward sustainable energy would probably continue to encourage investment in renewables.

Contact plans to invest up to $3 billion in about 1400 megawatts of new generation projects, dominated by wind and geothermal power, and including a 200 megawatts gas peaking plant. Mr Daysh said that while National winning the election could delay the timing of some renewable projects, wind power would probably increase steadily. He said that under National there would probably be more thermal and gas-fired projects, although he questioned whether there was enough gas to supply the gas projects.

However, National’s energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee would not confirm how National’s energy policy would affect proposed wind farms.

The Labour government has said it intends to fight climate change by reducing emissions and generating 90 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.

Currently between 65 and 70 per cent of our electricity is from renewable sources. Energy Minister David Parker has said that the government is pursuing actions across all sectors, including New Zealand’s “world class wind resources.”

The New Zealand Wind Energy Association (NZWEA) said on their website: “the wind in New Zealand blows more strongly and consistently than almost anywhere else in the inhabited world … turbines in this country can produce more electricity, for more of the time and at a lower price, than in any other location on the globe.”

“The electricity that turbines produce when measured against generating capacity is referred to as the capacity factor. In some parts of Europe this may be in the low twenties. New Zealand boasts the highest capacity factors in the world. Wind turbines here have an average capacity factor of 41%, but in some locations the capacity factor of individual turbines can be as high as 55% or more,” the NZWEA said.

Recent research by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority shows that 88 per cent of New Zealanders support wind energy, although this amount reduced slightly when respondents were asked about a wind farm they could see or hear from their home.


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Comments (2)

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  1. derekguy says:

    People will always complain.

    We create power plants which destroy natural resources and pollute the enviroment and people complain.

    We create newer and more enviromentally friendly technology which is able to reduce our pollution of the enviroment and people complain.

    I sometimes wish someone with the ability to would stand up and shout some perspective into these farmers and small town folk.

  2. James Malthus says:

    Maybe Winston Peters could have a new career doing that?

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