A wind farm proposed for Porteous Hill, near Blueskin Bay, should not be allowed to go ahead in its present form because of significant adverse effects on its nearest neighbours, the Environment Court has been told.
On the first day of a Resource Management Act appeal by Blueskin Energy Ltd against the Dunedin City Council, Judge Jane Borthwick and two commissioners heard legal submissions from lawyers for the parties.
They also heard cross-examination of the first witnesses whose written evidence was earlier given to the court.
Since it was first proposed several years ago, the wind farm project has divided the Blueskin Bay community.
Supporters argue any negative effects would be outweighed by the benefits, including the reduction of New Zealand’s carbon footprint.
But those opposed point to the impact of the wind farm on the area’s landscape, part of the site being within the Seacliff significant natural landscape.
Since a year ago, when independent commissioner Colin Weatherall refused consent for Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust’s planned three-turbine wind farm, the number of turbines proposed has been reduced from three 90mtall structures to one 110m high turbine.
Mr Weatherall said his decision was “significantly influenced” by the adverse effect the wind farm would have on the amenity and character of properties in Pryde Rd.
But Blueskin Energy, a company formed by the trust to develop the project, argues the consent committee was mistaken on several issues, including its finding the turbines would be intrusive and visually dominant over the properties. It was also wrong in finding the turbine noise would reinforce the dominance of the turbines and it erred in not granting consent for the two turbines it considered acceptable.
Representing Blueskin Energy, Bridget Irving said the single turbine now proposed would be at least 650m from the nearest house. The maximum distance previously was 471m.
At 650m, the noise from the one turbine now proposed would be no more than minor and could be controlled, Ms Irving said. And the effect on the wider landscape would be minor.
She argued the benefits of the proposed scheme – combating climate change and providing renewable energy – would make a crucial contribution to New Zealand and the environment.
Developing, maintaining and upgrading existing electricity generation systems were accepted as matters of significance.
Evidence from Jacinta Ruru, a BRCT trustee, was that a dividend to the trust of, on average, $100,000 per annum was anticipated, the dividend being used to enable the trust to “do what it’s doing” to meet its responsibilities to the Blueskin community. And 10% was earmarked to be spent by another community board, yet to be formed.
Project manager Scott Willis who is also manager of the trust, said in cross-examination any dividend would be paid at the end of the financial year. But he clarified that by saying he could not say for sure the company would be able to pay $100,000 after the first fully operational year but, on average, he would expect an average dividend of $100,000.
As manager of the project, he was happy about “the whole purpose” of the projected dividend, he told Michael Garbutt who represented the DCC.
In submissions earlier in the day, Mr Garbutt said the framework of the operative regional policy statement identified encouragement for renewable energy while “avoiding, remedying or mitigating adverse effects on the environment”.
The policy sought to identify adverse effects on the environment that could not be appropriately mitigated and an offset, or environmental compensation, provided.
“In this particular case, any benefit is to the country in terms of a small increase in resilience and capacity of renewable energy generation, and a potential grant to the wider community.”
None of those “benefits” offset or compensated the Pryde Rd residents for the “significant and essentially permanent” adverse effects on their rural amenity, Mr Garbutt said.
After detailing the legal tests the court had to consider, he said the DCC position was that the key issue for consideration was the weighing of the benefits to be derived from the development of renewable energy against the “significant adverse effects” on the amenity of the closest neighbours.
That called for a value judgement and it was the DCC planner’s assessment the effects on neighbouring properties were “of such significance” that the purpose of the RMA was not achieved by expecting those property owners to experience such a significant detriment to their amenity to enable the applicant to proceed.
Overall, the council’s case was that the adverse effects on the amenity of the closest neighbours were significant, were not materially mitigated, offset nor compensated in any meaningful way, and those residents were ultimately the ones to be left experiencing permanent detriment to their use and enjoyment of their properties.
The level of effect was considered by council “so significant that this proposal should not proceed”, Mr Garbutt said.
Auckland lawyers Karen Price and Steve Mutch represent two couples from Pryde Rd and one man from Porteous Rd. Together known as the Porteous Hill neighbours, they oppose the proposed turbine, mainly because they consider certain adverse effects will be “significant” at least, and the turbine inappropriate in the context of the applicable planning framework.
The particular parties were concerned with several adverse effects of the proposal, key among them being visual amenity and landscape effects as well as noise.
The Porteous Hill neighbours’ properties were close beside the proposed turbine site and their homes were the closest three dwellings to the proposed turbine.
As a result, they were among the most affected local residents – if not the most affected – in terms of visual and acoustic amenity effects, Mr Mutch said.
And they were not solely concerned with adverse effects as experienced from their houses, but also with effects experienced from their wider properties where they spent considerable time.
The wider adverse landscape effects would be significant, including in the context of the turbine being located within the Seacliff significant natural landscape under the proposed District Plan, and next to the North Coast coastal landscape preservation area in the Operative District Plan.
In summary, the Porteous Hill neighbours considered, in the context of the planning framework, the adverse effects of the proposal were such that it was inappropriate and should be declined, Ms Price said.
The adverse effects could not be appropriately remedied or mitigated, including through conditions, and they outweighed any positive effects, including the proposal’s “negligible” contribution to renewable energy generation and any “community benefits”.
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