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Giant turbines whip up a storm

A wind farm planned for hills between Porirua and Hutt Valley has stirred up a storm, with angry residents claiming huge turbines on nearby ridgelines will be an eyesore and devalue their properties.

Greater Wellington regional council has tendered development rights for the Puketiro wind farm to British company RES New Zealand.

The company has been consulting rural residents east of Pauatahanui. More than 60 turned up to a meeting last month to hear that RES wanted 50 three-megawatt turbines.

Though some turbines would go on council land – including Battle Hill Regional Park – most would go on private land.

Local farmer Mike Strugnall said residents were told the wind farm would be the biggest in the world.

“There was dead silence. Some of us live within a kilometre of the proposed farm.”

RES spokesman Chris Drayton denied that comment had been made, but agreed the turbines could each be up to 130 metres high – the world’s biggest now available for use on land.

Mr Strugnall said he understood six of the turbines – taller than Wellington’s State Insurance Tower – were planned for a ridgeline directly opposite his farm. They would be visible from the Hutt Valley as well as from Porirua.

Reflections from the blades would be a big issue, with the setting westerly sun.

Farmer Mark Phillips said he only found out about the wind farm because his farm had road access to the ridgeline that RES said it might want to use. “Most of my immediate neighbours didn’t know there was a wind farm going in. RES still hasn’t talked to them.”

Some nearby farmers had subdivided land and scores of houses had either been built or were planned, their owners unaware large turbines were likely to go up nearby.

But Mr Drayton said RES had distributed a newsletter in the area and had tried to contact as many locals as it could. RES had started public consultation even though its plans were still being developed. It had yet to decide on the exact location, number and size of turbines.

“We want people to feel they can have a say, even though there is still some uncertainty.”

Final decisions would be made once an environmental assessment was finished in November. RES expected to seek resource consents early next year. People would then have a chance to have their say through the hearings process.

Regional council spokesman Murray Kennedy said the council would benefit if Puketiro went ahead, as it would get royalties for letting its land be used for turbines. He would not say how much those royalties would be worth.

The controversy has arisen two weeks after the Environment Court approved Meridian Energy’s Project West Wind near Makara. Even with the number of turbines cut from 70 to 62, the farm is expected to generate the equivalent of electricity for all of Wellington city.

But Mr Jackson said New Zealand’s power consumption was increasing 2 per cent a year. New sources – like Puketiro – were needed to replace generation plants near the end of their lives.

By Colin Patterson

The Dominion Post

3 September 2007