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Power in reserve


Do we want to generate electricity in the Turitea Reserve? Palmerston North people are being asked the question through a consultation document that’s studded with references to a new wind farm. HELEN HARVEY tries to make sense of the mixed messages.

For weeks now some city residents have been trying to make sense of an eight-page consultation document from the Palmerston North City council sent to every home in the city about a new management plan for Turitea Reserve.

It follows a decision by the council to go into partnership with Mighty River Power to establish a wind farm on the reserve.

But the consultation document has some residents shaking their heads in confusion.

Mayor Heather Tanguay said the consultation document is not about the wind farm, it’s about changing the reserve’s management plan.

But some people wanting to comment on the plan have found it difficult to do so without knowing more about the wind-farm proposal.

Decisions that might sway opinions have not been made public – such as how big the estimated 50 to 60 turbines will be, where they will go, how many roads will be cut through the reserve, or where power transmission lines will go.

Mrs Tanguay said people don’t need this information because the consultation isn’t about the wind farm.

“No details of the number of turbines and layout have been confirmed because submissions are about the change of purpose (to the Turitea Management Plan), not about a wind-farm development.”

There is enough information to make a submission on the change of purpose, she said.

The Turitea Reserve Consultation document indicates any changes made will be solely to accommodate a wind farm and the 182 submissions received so far are all about the wind farm.

Submissions close on Monday and will be heard by the infrastructural well-being committee a week later. The committee will then make a recommendation to the council.

Changing the plan earns the city council $250,000 from Mighty River Power.

Since the idea of a wind farm in the reserve was first raised, it has only been talked about at council level behind closed doors.

Mrs Tanguay was asked why there has been no public discussion at the council table. Her response:

“The council as both landowner and consent regulator for the wind farm sees the current submission process as an appropriate mechanism to receive the widest community views on the change of purpose for the reserve. That will be a public debate and consideration. Any subsequent resource hearing will also be public and before an independent commissioner.”

If the council decides to change the purpose of the reserve, Mighty River Power will then be free to apply for resource consent to build the wind farm.

The application for resource consent would be subject to a consultation round and to hearings from members of the community, Mrs Tanguay said.

The Manawatu Standard understands the council will get more money from Mighty Power if the resource consent goes through, but the council refuses to divulge how much.

Mrs Tanguay was also asked for assurances there will be no damage to the reserve.

The question about damage was “misleading because it presupposes there will be damage”, she said.

“The Reserve Management Plan is about improvements and enhancements … Mighty River Power indicates that less than 1 percent of the 3500ha of secondary vegetation could be removed to enable the wind farm to proceed.”

The council has already acknowledged that care must be taken with the selection of turbine sites and road alignment to avoid sensitive areas, Mrs Tanguay said.

“If the change of purpose is approved, investigations about potential turbine sites can be completed.”