The aim of Meridian Energy’s Project Hayes is to put 176 wind turbines on the top of the Lammermore Range, producing, when the wind blows, power for up to 250,000 average homes.
The Environment Court is currently hearing evidence about whether it should proceed, and lined up in opposition are a high profile collection of people that include the painter Grahame Sydney and poet Brian Turner, plus rugby players Anton Oliver and David Kirk.
Campbell Live visited two neighbouring families: one very much in favour, one very much against.
The cattle are cold and impatient; they are waiting for 17-year-old Brooke Elliot to turn up with their feed. The sun is not even up yet, but she and her family are well into the day’s work.
“We love farming,” says Sue Elliot. “We’ve got three kids that love farming. You’ve got to be looking ahead for the mortgage.”
This is the third generation of Elliots on the Lammermore farm. Five-and-a-half thousand hectares of organic sheep, beef, and now possibly, wind.
“It’s just another form of farming,” says John Elliot.
“It’s just a diversification, and the only thing the wind will do which you can’t with farming, is it will be a guaranteed income,” says Ms Elliot.
It is on the top of the nearby range that that guaranteed income would sit: 68 of the 176 proposed wind turbines.
Just what that income would be is still all a bit vague, but the Elliots do stand to do very well out of the project.
“Yeah we stand to do well out of it, but we’re good farmers. We do well anyway,” says Mrs Elliot.
The Elliots work hard, on hard land. Their community is small. The school only has five pupils, and the mail only comes three times a week. Cellphones? Forget it.
They believe the wind farm, and all the construction that goes with it, would change all that.
“The positives for this community far outweigh the negatives, and it’s just so beneficial to the whole community,” says Ms Elliot.
On the side where the wind farm will go are five farms in favour of them. On the other side of the valley, people are opposed.
The Masons are on the other side of the valley and the other side of the argument. They too have farmed this land for three generations, but there will not be a fourth if the wind farm goes ahead.
“Yeah, it would be hard to stay,” says Ian Mason, “because of what it will do to what I’ve grown up to and what I’m attached to.
“I mean, that’s the reason we live in this area, because of what it is. The isolation is what I’m attached to.”
Two other farmers have recently sold up on this side of the valley, at least partly because of the project
From every point on the Mason farm there would be a view of the turbines.
“It’s gonna dominate that whole east side of the valley, from one end to the other there’s no getting away from that,” says Mr Mason.
It is the sight and sound of what they call the ‘great white whirling monsters’.
“And of course they’re all huge, half the size of the mountain on top of the mountain,” says Sarah Mason. “All moving constantly out of synchronisation, very unnatural.
“Our wee school only has five pupils in it. The wind farm will be 1400m from it, I’m not sure. Far too close.”
The Masons are not afraid of the ‘nimby’ tag – not in my back yard.
“That’s one of the first things Meridian started calling us,” says Mr Mason.
“To an extent we are, and quite proud of it,” says Ms Mason. “Everyone wants to look after their own back yard, no one else is going to come into the wop wops here and look after it for us.”
One valley, two families. Only one of them is going to come out of this happily.
“Its going to be a real spin off right through the whole centre,” says Mr Elliot. “Obviously for ourselves, it would be naive to say you wouldn’t, but it’s gonna be beneficial for all New Zealanders in the end.”
Would the Masons really leave if the wind farm was built?
“Yes, I think so,” says Mr Mason. “It will be hard, especially with the family attachment, three generations, all my life here, so far over 40 years.”
When it does blow in this part of the world, it can really howl.
For Meridian it is a fortune just begging to be harvested, but that is now in the hands of the Environment Court.
18 June 2008