The fate of Northland’s first wind farm near Kaitaia could lie in the hands of Herekino hapu.
Meridian Energy is going ahead with plans to put 18 wind turbines on Maori owned-land south of Ahipara, but has stalled plans for 18 turbines on adjoining Crown land managed by the Conservation Department.
The state-owned electricity generator has been seeking a department concession to erect turbines on the 647ha Epakauri conservation area since 2006.
DOC announced last month that it is satisfied that any adverse effects the wind farm will have on conservation values at Epakauri can be mitigated.
But it has agreed with Meridian not to progress the application while the land is part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement package likely to be finalised in the next six months.
Meridian spokeswoman Claire Shaw says the company’s next step before applying for a resource consent will be to talk to hapu who may become owners of the Epakauri block.
“We’re keen to get a feel for where they’re at as landowners and we’ll discuss options and ways forward should they feel that’s appropriate.”
She would not say what incentives Meridian might offer hapu.
“It’s standard practice when we’re building on private land to enter into a commercial arrangement with landowners.”
Mike Wikitera is a member of Ngati Kuri o Herekino, one of two Epakauri hapu groups recognised by the Maori Land Court.
He says most hapu members are against a wind farm at Epakauri because they could see minimal benefits for them when they met Meridian last year.
“I think they talked about making available one to two scholarships for young people in our area.”
Hapu may change their stance if they gain title of the land and are in a stronger position to bargain with Meridian.
“We want to make sure our whanau get any financial benefits they can, but the wind farm will drastically alter the landscape so it will come down to weighing up the gains and losses.”
They are also mindful that opposing the Epakauri wind farm could jeopardise gains other hapu stand to make by allowing Meridian to put 18 turbines on the 1068ha Manukau 5 block. “Meridian has said if they can’t get Epakauri they won’t push ahead with the wind farm on Manukau 5.”
Sonny Harrison is the chairman of Te Whanau o Nga Tai o Te Uru Trust which represents Manukau 5 block’s 200 shareholder owners.
He says the trust is close to signing an agreement that will allow Meridian to lease the block for 40 years.
Benefits the trust has secured for shareholders include annual rent, construction and maintenance jobs on the wind farm and a $750,000 housing complex.