New Zealand’s wind farm industry is pushing for people to be allowed to build houses closer to turbines than the Palmerston North City Council wants.
Generators Mighty River Power, Meridian,TrustPower and New Zealand Windfarms are recommending 40-decibel noise contours should be used to draw the line about how close is too close to live to a turbine.
They were supported by industry group, the New Zealand Wind Energy Association (WEA), at a hearing about wind farms and landscapes before resource management commissioners in Palmerston North on Thursday.
The purpose of having a set distance separating turbines from houses is both to protect residents from suffering the effects of intrusive noise, and to limit noise complaints that could constrain wind farm operations.
WEA chief executive Eric Pyle said noise contours were regarded internationally as the best way to manage the effects of wind farm noise.
He criticised the council’s proposed 1.5-kilometre no-build zone, which extends further than the contours around Palmerston North’s existing and consented wind farms, as “arbitrary” and unscientific.
“Setbacks are not an evidence-based way to manage noise issues,” he said.
But the council’s lawyer John Maassen has warned commissioners to be suspicious of the motivation for using the contours, because they seemed to set a line on the map beyond which the operators could claim there were no noise effects.
“The council knows from experience that people complain outside the 40dBA contour, because it has over 1000 complaints in relation to the Te Rere Hau farm, many from residents outside the shown contour.”
He said it seemed peculiar that the operators would settle for a lesser distance between turbines and residents than the council was proposing.
Meridian’s compliance strategy manager Andrew Feierabendsaid the council’s approach to noise management was too heavily influenced by the specific history of complaints experienced at NZ Windfarms’ Te Rere Hau.
NZ Windfarms lawyer Vicki Morrison-Shaw disputed implications that Te Rere Hau was a “noisy” wind farm, with latest litigation showing that it complied with its resource consent, and with 30 per cent of the complaints against it coming from just two properties over six years.
“All of the non-compliance declarations sought by the Palmerston North City Council were ultimately dismissed,” she said.
Morrison-Shaw said there was no good reason for the council to restrict people’s rights to use private land close to wind farms any more than could be justified by applying the noise contours.
Pyle also wanted the council to relax some of its proposed rules for managing wind farms in future, especially where existing and consented wind farms needed to be redeveloped.
He said the National Policy Statement on renewable energy generation obliged councils not just to allow wind farms, but to support them by adopting effective planning frameworks.
Wind farm operators were concerned that the council’s Plan Change 15B to the District Plan did not support them sufficiently, and was going to make it too difficult for them to “re-power” their wind farms.
Re-powering would happen when operators wished to replace ageing turbines with newer technology.
The hurdles the council had set for wind farms wanting to upgrade or move their turbines were set too high, Pyle said.
The hearing continues on Friday with the city council giving its right of reply.
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