I’ve written before about the proposal of a local company to build a windfarm in the hills near where I live. An article in The Press newspaper this morning made my blood boil and made me happy that I penned an opinion piece for a soon-to-be-published edition of a newspaper. I detest people who, under the guise of genuine concern, stand in the way of projects merely because they’re NIMBYs.
I’ve also been amazed at the number of farmers in my local area who, with a straight face, tell me that windfarms are bad because they change the environment. This despite the majority of them wanting to be able to bulldoze tracks on their properties, or dump their rubbish in a gully “down the back”.
Anyway – I’m all worked up and wanted to get the other side of the story out there. So here goes…
The dual proposals to site windfarms on the ridgeline east of Waipara has stirred up a hornets nest of discontent that has sadly boiled over into ugliness. As a Waipara resident with one of the better views of the Mt Cass ridgeline, a regular habit of visiting Mt Cass itself and someone with an interest in the conflicting issues around economic development and environmental impacts, I wanted to give one resident’s views on the plan.
First some context. We live in a country with increasing electricity demands and various pressures upon new electricity generation – large scale hydro has proven difficult in recent years, New Zealand has an aversion to nuclear power and fossil fuelled plants will continue to be problematic from both a supply and impact perspective. While next generation renewables like wave and tidal power sound attractive – they are highly experimental and, at this stage at least, highly expensive on a per KwH basis.Given all of this, our individual electricity use demands an increase in the aggregate electricity supply in as benign a way as possible – and this is where windfarms come in.
At first view it would seem that the ability to generate electricity without affecting the existing ability of the land to generate economic wealth is a positive one. Couple this with the fact that wind power is as close as possible to zero-emission as we’re likely to get and the stage is set for a fait accompli. Or so it would seem.
Out of this seemingly win/win situation comes a tornado of objection – most of which seems to pivot on the impacts on nearby residents of the proposals. These are mainly focused on noise or the perceived economic and visual impacts. Of course a more cynical person would suggest it a little churlish for the anyone living in a highly modified environment such as the Waipara Valley to be against the proposal – development of an agricultural, horticultural and residential nature has, after all, impacted upon the environment more greatly than any windfarm ever will.
Unfortunately it seems that most people’s personal context begins in the present. The attitude seems to go that residents have a God-given right to use the land as they currently do, no matter how far removed that use is from pre-development. When someone comes along however who suggests developing the land for a different, or ancillary use, people tend to rapidly apply the handbrake, no matter how necessary that use is proven to be.
It is understandable that Waipara Valley residents feel aggrieved at the target they perceive Waipara to be for infrastructure projects, and much of the opposition to the windfarms has its genesis in lingering discontent about the Kate Valley Landfill and the process behind that project. The opposition I’ve seen thus far would seem to focus on the economic, noise and visual impacts of the projects. All of these factors are ones that will be looked at under the resource management process and this is more appropriate than fear mongering. From my own perspective, having spent considerable time around (and under!) wind turbines including time spent living near them in Denmark, their noise was never problematic to me. International evidence refutes claims of negative economic impacts from windfarms. And finally, for everyone who declares windfarms have a negative visual impact, there is someone who sees them in a more positive visual light.
But the bottom line is this – we all use electricity and expect a plentiful and on-demand supply. This coupled with the very real benefits of the local community having a degree of control over their own electricity supply, leave me in no doubt that the proposals are a net positive for the local, and wider, community.