Hurunui residents are gearing up to fight a power company they say is dividing their community.
Meridian will this month submit consent applications for a 33-turbine wind farm at Centre Hill, between Omihi and Greta Valley, about 66 kilometres from Christchurch.
The company says Project Hurunui will provide the upper South Island with 75.9 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy, providing power for up to 31,000 households.
However, opponents are concerned about noise and the effect on their landscape and property values.
Greta Valley businessman John Carr said the proposal had “set neighbour against neighbour”.
Adding to the concerns is speculation Meridian will pay landowners $15,000 a year for each turbine on their land, while their affected neighbours get nothing.
“It is no different to being attacked by an enemy,” Carr said.
“Why should we have to defend our properties against devaluation?”
His survey of 397 residents in July last year found 37 per cent were against the wind farm, 42 per cent supported it and the rest were neutral.
The Government-owned Molesworth or St James stations were better sites, Carr said.
David Meares, whose Greta Valley property will be overlooked by the Hurunui turbines, said the loss of property values was “economics 101”.
“It’s supply and demand. There’s a lot of people who say, `Gee, I wouldn’t live near a wind farm’.
“The other argument is they have to pay landowners a substantial amount per turbine per year for them to host them, yet there’s very little disruption to production or normal farming operation.
“All power to them, but it’s clear that without that compensation their property values would be decimated. How come the negative effect on property values stops exactly at the boundary?”
Wind-testing stations have sprung up around Hurunui, fuelling residents’ fears the area will become hemmed in by turbines.
MainPower and TrustPower are investigating four possible sites.
“It shows as an asset on their books just getting consent. They’re trying to lock up the windy ridges,” Meares said.
“If they start going ahead, you have to fight each one.”
The division in the community was a “tragedy”, he said.
Mark Archbold’s family has lived in Greta Valley for more than 90 years.
The Scargill volunteer fire brigade’s deputy chief has also been the area’s rural mail postie for the past 12 years.
“Within three or four months, it’s destroyed a community that’s taken generations to develop. Regardless of what happens here, it will never repair.”
Some disguised their feelings because they worked with or had wind-farm supporters as customers.
“There’s a small group who are not saying anything because they don’t want to offend their friends and they don’t want to lose business.”
Once the wind farm was built, Meridian would “move on to the next one”, Archbold said.
“We’re seeing them, we’re hearing them, we’ve got to look at them, and we’ve got to look at the landowners. We’re here for the long haul and we’re not moving.”
Meridian spokeswoman Michelle Brooker said the Resource Management Act (RMA) process was the “correct forum for weighing up the pros and cons”.
The differing views in the community needed to be respected, she said.
Carr said the RMA was “95 per cent in favour” of Meridian.
“It’s not the facts, it’s their dollars,” he said.
“The whole process is so weighted, both financially and structurally, against the individuals.”
Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley said the project had caused “distress and division”, but he expected the wounds would heal.
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