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Servants of society rather than masters of nature  

In his editorial comment, Graeme Purches of TrustPower (ODT May 1, 2008) claims that: “In essence, evaluations regarding the need for and viability of a wind farm at Mahinerangi by painters, poets, rugby players, farmers and other lay people are poles apart from those made by mechanical, civil and environmental engineers, accountants, and business people who run a successful business like TrustPower.”

His statement is a shocking claim from one who professes to be a community relations manager and is an all too common example of the belief that the engineer is the master of nature.

It is also grossly insulting to the many members of society who discern bias in the claims made by the wind power companies and is in conflict with the Institution of Professional Engineers’ (IPENZ) code of ethics, which clearly implies that engineers are the servants of society.

The IPENZ web page on their code of ethics states that: “The respect which society accords the engineering professions is earned and maintained by its members demonstrating a strong and consistent commitment to ethical values.”

The basis of the code of ethics is set out in rule four of the institution as:

– Protection of life and safeguarding people.
– Sustainable management and care for the environment.
– Commitment to community well-being
– Professionalism, integrity and competence.
– Sustaining engineering knowledge.

The code essentially puts the interests of society and the environment above those of an engineer’s employer, responsibility to the employer coming fourth in the above list.

While the project managers of the wind farms will claim that they are meeting society’s interests by providing needed electricity, this is hardly the full truth.

Firstly, the opponents to these projects are not saying no to all wind farms; they are simply saying that wind farms should not be built at the expense of irreplaceable landscape.

It is quite likely that less acceptable sites will be less economically attractive to the power companies, but they will not be as environmentally damaging as the two proposed projects on the Mahinerangi/Lammermoor/Rock and Pillar Range as they can be built on already compromised land, land that has the ability to recover from further development.

Secondly, what the Power companies are failing to consider is that lay people are a vital part of society and not only should their point of view be considered, they should not be misled.

The public relations machine has persistently presented the case that:

(a) we need more electrical generation
(b) (only) Mahinerangi and Hayes can provide this electricity – therefore:
(c) we must have these projects.

While the “only” in (b) is seldom if ever mentioned, it is implicitly there and is the item which makes statement (b) false and thus makes the conclusion (c) false.

The simple truth is that there will be other sites with already compromised landscapes that can be used for wind farms and that will not destroy valued landscape – the White Hills wind farm at Mossburn is a good example.

Also implicit in (b) is the idea that wind energy is so good it cannot be criticised.

Wind and hydro generation are sold as renewable energy but we need to examine the use of this emotive word.

These two forms of generation effectively have renewable fuel (wind and water, respectively), but given that they destroy non-renewable landscape, they are clearly not sustainable, and this is what we should be considering in this finite world.

I also take issue with the scorn placed on lay people.

No engineering problem has an exact solution – the solution is determined by the boundaries (assumptions) used to define the problem.

The boundaries of these two projects have been defined narrowly, with the assumption that the landscape has no significant value.

There has been a sad lack of appreciation that landscape is primarily a cultural concept that has a significant spiritual value.

In Graeme Purches’ view, only professionals can make unbiased judgements.

Landscape architects argue the geometric form of landscape, but can they fully divorce their own spiritual considerations of landscape from their professional opinion? Lawyers rely on legal descriptors such as “outstanding natural landscape”.

In gazetting these legal definitions it is assumed that adequate consideration has been given to all possible landscapes.

Even the chairman of the Project Hayes hearing John Matthews, himself a lawyer, considered that the legal definitions were not sufficient.

In reality, landscape can be adequately defined only by philosophers – the painters, poets, rugby players, and other lay people of our society – and these opinions should have been better considered much earlier in the planning of these projects.

On a personal note, I have over my working life had to resolve the conflict between my professional association with the engineering, mining and processing industries and my interest in landscape photography and natural history photography.

I am convinced that there are some landscapes that are simply too valuable to allow development in. Such areas can be identified and decided only by realistic public evaluation.

When development of sensitive landscape is being considered and there are conflicting solutions, then the decision should fall in the direction that allows recovery if it is later determined that the wrong decision has been made.

While it may seem that wind farms can be recovered from, this is clearly not the case with the Mahinerangi and Hayes projects.

While some rehabilitation may be possible, restoration of this landscape to its current condition would clearly be prohibitively expensive and would occupy more subsequent years in total than the working life of the wind farm itself.

– Errol Kelly is a former associate dean of engineering at the University of Auckland. He lives in Wanaka.

Otago Daily Times

8 May 2008

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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