New Zealand

New Zealand

Aggressive public relations pays off -- Approval for 210 MW expected

Lots of groundwork -- based in paper, not dirt -- saw a promising result for New Zealand's Meridian Energy in the public consultation process for its planned 210 MW Project West Wind at a site near Wellington. Meridian is billing the wind farm as likely to be one of the most productive in the world, generating electricity over 90% of the time with a capacity factor of 47%. Expected production is up to 850 GWh a year.

Multiple open days, a range of promotional events and publications, a free information phone-line, and staff out on the street gave the company a high public profile throughout the region. Combined with a strong campaign -- spearheaded by Greenpeace New Zealand -- to encourage the public to support the proposed project, the result was a record number of submissions from the public to the Wellington City Council. Around 3000 submissions were made, with more than 75% of them in favour of the plant. Around 700 were against the proposal. "We never get anywhere near that amount of submissions normally," says a council spokesman.

If it proceeds, the wind farm will most likely consist of 70 Vestas turbines covering 55 square kilometres of farmland west of Wellington on Quartz Hill and neighbouring Tarawhiti Station.

Counter message

Not all folk are happy with the proposal. The Makara Guardians, a group formed to fight previous proposals for wind development in the area, has been countering what it calls "the slick marketing message of a bullying corporate giant." The group highlighted Meridian's recent deal, supposed to be confidential, for the resettlement of a family living near the company's Te Apiti wind farm near Palmerston North, arguing this proves wind farms generate significant noise and visual pollution.

In one innovative attempt to stop the wind farm's development, a group called the Quartz Hill Reserve Charitable Trust has asked for public donations to acquire the project's 1000 hectare site. Meridian owns the land and has no intention of selling, but the trust has called on the government to instruct Meridian, as an enterprise owned by the state, to relinquish it.

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