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Proposal puts wind up residents

Meridian Energy is proposing to resurrect a plan to install up to 20 windmills 5km south of Eketahuna, but residents are worried about the project’s impact on their mental health.

The Mt Munro Wind Farm was first proposed in 2011 then abandoned in 2013 because of a lack of demand for electricity, according to Meridian Energy – but residents claim their resistance had a part to play.

“At the time of the withdraw, we advised we would review the project should market conditions change,” Meridian Energy head of renewable development Rebecca Knott said.

She said it is critical that the company invests in renewable energy assets to achieve New Zealand’s climate change, social, and economic goals.

The wind farm would produce about 330 GWh of energy annually, enough to supply about 50,000 homes, the energy company has estimated.

The turbines would have a blade diameter of up to 136m and a maximum height above ground level of up to 160m.

Up to 14 turbines would be closely spaced along the site’s main ridgeline, with two further groups – each comprising up to three turbines – on lower hills to the northwest of the main ridge.

The turbines would be spaced in a way that makes the best use of prevailing wind conditions on the site, and “that also balances any potential effects”, Meridian Energy has stated.

“Access to the site for construction and operation is via Old Coach Rd North. Internal wind farm roading is based on existing tracking as far as possible,” Meridan Energy said.

Old Coach Rd North resident Mike Clark – whose home is below the proposed site of some of the windmills on the lower hills – said it would be “stone-cold murder” to have trucks travelling up and down the road from “six in the morning in the summertime until eight at night, six or seven days a week”.

Clark was part of a group that actively opposed the wind farm when it was first proposed.

He said he is unsure how he would live through both the construction and the noise of the windmills after they were installed.

Janet McIlraith, who lives on Smiths Line at the southern end of the planned wind farm, said the site is surrounded by about 20 houses.

The project drove people out of town when it was first proposed, said McIlraith, who is afraid that it will happen all over again.

“I’d like them to stop the process because the process last time was really stressful; it affected a lot of people’s mental health,” she said.

“We now have an elderly gentleman now saying that it will kill him; they just can’t face it again.”

“My neighbour lost 10kg just fretting about it.”

McIlraith said part of the issue is that the windmills would be built too close to homes, citing a 2016 Stuff article quoting a commissioners’ decision on the wind farm section of Palmerston North’s District Plan had set 1.5km as the minimum distance houses should be built from turbines.

McIlraith showed the Times-Age plans that said her property would be about 1.3km from the nearest turbine. Plans showing the roadside of a nearby property said it was 1.1km from the nearest turbine.

Clark aid his home would be within about 1km of the proposed windmills.

“It is very careless of the mental health of the existing people here,” said McIlraith.

He noted that it was well-known that windmills in hilly areas make disruptive noise, referencing a 2013 Shetland National Health Service report that listed several adverse impacts from such developments.

Knott said the wind farm would comply with the New Zealand Standard NZS6808:2010 with respect to noise from turbines.

But residents aren’t just concerned about their mental health and their homes being rendered “uninhabitable” – they are also bracing for reduced property values.

McIlraith said international experience suggests property values decrease by “at least 17 per cent” when windmills are installed nearby.

Her greater concern, however, is that residents will be unable to sell their homes if the project goes ahead.

She also pointed out that people have recently built homes in close proximity to the proposed wind farm, unaware that it had been proposed.

Knott said in accordance with the Resource Management Act, any future decisions would assess any adverse effects arising from the proposed wind farm, which included any loss of amenity values to homes.

“Our independent experts consider that the proposed Mt Munro Wind Farm is both appropriate and acceptable for the area. We are also willing to reasonably design the wind farm to ensure it minimises adverse effects where practicable and acceptable.”

McIlraith called for Meridian Energy to consider if the project is “even viable at all”, given the distances between the existing dwellings.

“We’re not saying, ‘Not in my backyard’, we’re saying, ‘Not in anybody’s backyard’.”

Knott said the company held two information days in Eketahuna and plans to lodge a resource consent request with GWRC, Horizons Regional Council, Masterton District Council, and Tararua District Council “around May”.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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