Mercury Energy has apologised to residents close to the planned Turitea wind farm in Palmerston North for its secrecy and has promised to be open about its project.
Generation development manager Dennis Radich said he felt terrible for people who had been blindsided by the March announcement that the first 33 of 60 consented turbines would be installed during the next year.
He was speaking to a sometimes boisterous meeting on Wednesday, called to set up a community liaison group to keep communications flowing between residents and Mercury.
The first nearby residents knew of Mercury’s decision to proceed on the resource consent granted in 2011 was through a Stuff report.
Many had assumed it was not going to happen and others had moved into the area not knowing about the wind farm proposal.
Radich said it was a matter of “secrecy by commercial necessity” in an extremely competitive market that prevented Mercury from signalling its intentions earlier.
The meeting was the first step toward setting up a community liaison group, which conditions on the resource consent demand should have its first meeting 60 days before construction begins.
Mercury considered Wednesday’s meeting satisfied that requirement, three months ahead of a construction start date of August 8.
But by the end of the meeting, attended by about 70 people, it was not clear when and how a smaller group representing residents, iwi, landowners and other interest groups would be formed.
One of the original submitters against the wind farm, Alison Mildon, said it was premature to even talk about it, as not enough people had been invited to attend.
Mercury was required to invite anyone who had expressed a particular interest, including everyone who lived within 3.5 kilometres of the wind farm boundary.
But it had focused on those living within 3.5km of one of the 33 northern group of turbines and 220kW transmission line, excluding those near the southern 27-turbine part of the wind farm, which it has not yet committed to building.
Mercury’s environmental resources manager Mark Henry said the company did not think it was prudent to raise concerns about the southern site, where residents would not be affected.
Another group wanting to be included in the liaison group was the Manawatū Mountain Bike Club.
Treasurer Peter Wells said the Arapuke mountain bike trails generated a lot more traffic on Kahuterawa Rd than a decade ago and the club was worried about the effects of construction vehicles using Kahuterawa Rd.
Some of those at the meeting wanted to challenge the validity of Mercury’s resource consent and its private variation of the consent to allow a change to the type of turbines involved, in light of changed international advice about the effects of turbines on people.
Mercury and planning staff from Palmerston North and Tararua councils said there was no doubt the consent was valid.
Mercury has agreed to host another community meeting and review the invitation list at a date yet to be set.
It has also set up an email address and will have a webpage, 0800 number and project bulletins as ways of keeping the community informed and receiving feedback.
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