A two-pronged attack has been launched on resolving noise problems at the Te Rere Hau wind farm near Palmerston North.
After receiving 1750 complaints and after several court actions, the city council has moved to change the conditions of New Zealand Windfarms’ consent to operate.
It has called for public submissions on new noise rules, which will be considered by its hearing committee.
And early this year, NZ Windfarms underwent major structural changes, with new commercial director John Worth working to cut back on the amount of time the turbines operate and create noise.
The original resource consent for the wind farm was granted in 2005, and 65 of the consented 97 wind turbines were installed.
By 2009, the city council had started receiving complaints from about 20 properties from Forest Hill Rd, Harrisons Hill Rd, Ridgeview Rd and the Pahiatua Track.
City council chief executive Paddy Clifford said in his notice of review that noise from Te Rere Hau needed to be better managed and monitored.
He said there were inaccuracies in evidence given about the acoustic effects of the wind turbines at the original consent hearing, with the effects turning out to be far greater than had been predicted.
Worth said even though the wind farm complied with existing conditions, it was clear those conditions were out of date and needed to be reviewed.
He knew the council was working on new conditions, so was not surprised by the action.
“Ultimately, it’s their direction and their proposal as to what the conditions would say.”
Worth said working with landowners and neighbours to understand the nature of their complaints could be a more constructive approach, and taking steps to alleviate the problems.
NZ Windfarms’ new approach was not just about being a better neighbour, but was also driven by economic considerations.
It was planning a “curtailment” regime, which would see the turbines operating less often, with one of the benefits to the company being savings on wear and tear, and extending the life of the turbines.
New software would instruct the turbines to close down when wind conditions were turbulent, to reduce damage.
NZ Windfarms would follow up with landowners to see whether shutting down on blustery days also reduced noise annoyance.
Another issue for the company was that at times the returns for generating power at the wind farm were low.
Particularly, prices were lower in summer, especially in the evenings.
“If we are not making much money then, that’s an opportunity for us to do something for those people who want to open the windows on a summer evening and have a barbecue.”
Worth said the two processes of reviewing the conditions, and working with neighbours about changes to the operating regime, would work in parallel.
He said there was still plenty of software development to be done to achieve a better balance between business and community needs.
“We don’t have all the answers yet. But this is a cultural change in our approach, about how we work with our community.
“We think that with clever software and analysis we can shift the dial on what noise the community is experiencing.”
Submissions on the proposed changes to noise controls close on Friday, June 2.