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Report urges community involvement in windfarms  

Expansion of the nation’s electricity generation by wind turbines may be eco-friendly, but it’s not winning hearts and minds in local communities, says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams.

Dr William’s report ““ Wind Power, People and Place ““ released today, said tensions were being increased by the limited scope for most New Zealanders to be involved in wind power development.

“There is little or no opportunity to invest in most wind farms, nor for smaller scale developments or local community ownership,” he said.

Dr Williams said wind power development was being dominated by Government agencies and modelled on the big hydro schemes of the 1960s, and coal and gas projects of the 1980s.

“This model is almost certain to generate friction, and we see that in concerns about the landscape and visual amenity impacts,” he said.

In the context of growing interest in global climate change and the greenhouse gas aspects of energy, people wanted to become more environmentally responsible.

“We need and want to take more control of our energy futures,” Dr Williams said.

Experience in countries such as Denmark and Germany was that “green” electricity from wind was more acceptable from smaller-scale wind farms, and those which were community-owned.

Dr Williams said this was not only because of a reduced impact on the landscape but because local ownership created a more intimate link between community and energy and a greater sense of security.

A similar trend in New Zealand would fit with the growing potential to expand the supply of energy from smaller-scale renewable sources ““ boosting the resilience of energy systems at the level of households and local communities.

Dr Williams called on the Government to address the scale of wind farms and explore the potential for community ownership, because the context of wind power was most important.

“Failure to address these social and community dimensions will seriously limit how wind power can contribute to our well being in a way that does not degrade cherished landscape values,” the commissioner said.

In Otago, Meridian Energy’s proposed 176-turbine Project Hayes wind farm on the Lammermoor Range and Trustpower’s plans for another 100 turbines 25km further south near Lake Mahinerangi has met significant public backlash.

In the North Island, opponents of Meridian’s 210MW West Wind project, set to be the nation’s biggest wind farm at Makara on Wellington’s south coast, campaigned against adverse landscape, visual impact and coastal effects.

At other proposed developments, people have complained about potential noise, the possibility of turbine blades disrupting radar beams, and low-frequency noise, known as infrasound, claimed to affect human health.

Dr Williams recommended the Government encourage smaller-scale, distributed wind farms and turbines, and investigate the potential for community-owned wind power.

He also called for Government help for councils in planning for wind farms, and managing tensions over landscapes and visual impact, and recommended the Department of Conservation take impacts of large-scale wind farms into account in coastal environments.

Dr Williams said the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority should keep reporting on public attitudes to wind farm development, including different sizes of farms, sites most and least appropriate for use, and community attitudes to existing farms.

Environment Minister David Benson-Pope should develop a nationally-consistent approach to landscape assessment by local authorities, he said.

stuff.co.nz

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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