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New Zealand

New Zealand

AN OMINOUS PUBLIC PRECEDENT, NIMBY VICTORY

Plans for one of New Zealand's first wind farms came to a grinding halt with the recent refusal by a local city council to grant permission for construction of the project. The refusal is seen as a victory for the NIMBY ( "not in my backyard" ) attitude and there are fears in the wind business that it could have set an ominous precedent for any other wind farms seeking to use coastal sites in New Zealand.

Energy Direct's planned wind plant at Baring Head, near Wellington, was to take up to 47 turbines to produce 10-15 MW for local supply. Of the submissions received by the council, 47 were in support of the plan, 175 were against; of the latter, the majority were sent in on pre-printed postcards distributed by Friends of Baring Head. There were particular objections to the visual impact that a wind farm would make on the coastal area.

Ironically, it was extremely difficult to produce a realistic photo simulation of the wind farm that enabled the machines to be seen -- the main viewing area is nine kilometres across the bay from the heads, making the turbines too small to see at an unmagnified scale. Industry watchers suggest that the location of the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand's test wind turbine on the skyline at suburban Brooklyn may have influenced people concerned by the possible visual pollution aspects of such developments.

A public survey had shown 82% support for the wind farm and the campaign against the siting was regarded as a case of "put it anywhere, but not where I think I can see it." One of the consultants said he found it extremely disappointing to apparently be on "the side of the devils" -- he's more used to being on the same side as environmental groups in arguing for renewable energy resources.

Energy Direct's business development manager, David Edwards, says the company has appealed the decision, but is unlikely to get a hearing until mid 1996 because of a backlog of planning cases. If the appeal is ultimately lost, the company is likely to drop the project completely as none of the other 15 sites investigated would be economically viable.

appeal underway

The appeal questions whether Hutt Council gave sufficient consideration to the positive aspects of the developments, particularly with regard to providing a renewable energy resource for local consumption. New Zealand's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has also expressed disappointment that "the wider public interest and national significance of the development did not appear to have been considered."

Arguments that the Baring Head landscape has "significant natural character" are being countered in the appeal, particularly given that the headland already has a number of buildings and a lighthouse.

In an EECA report, Edwards said that the decision has set a potentially serious precedent. "Most New Zealand sites will be on a coastal environment. To be economic, they need to be close to a load centre and most load centres are on the coast. The decision that it was inappropriate for coastal development (although it was nine kilometres from the closest houses) poses the question: when is it not inappropriate?"

There are hopes that a community discussion process will help in educating people on the issues and provide a better understanding of the sort of information needed and consultation required to make future wind farm consent processes smoother than this one.

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