Sight of the wind

windturbine.gif Time for me to front up on wind power. As I mentioned last year, our local lines company, Mainpower, is planning a windfarm on the ridge of Mt Cass above the eastern edge of the Waipara Valley. That’s a good chunk of the skyline visible from my veranda. Some of it will be hidden behind Mt Brown, but I’ll still have windmills to tilt at (though no donkey). The resource consent application has now been lodged with the Hurunui District Council [here]. Getting that together has been a major undertaking for one of HT’s regular commenters, Andrew Hurley, as he blogs at the Mainpower development blog (needs more posts Andrew!). There’s a lot of interesting stuff both in the application and in Mainpower’s resource pages.

Here’s the rub. I think global warming’s a huge problem, and subscribe to the view that we need to do more to encourage electricity generation from renewable resources. So can I overcome my latent nimbyism (what, big white things whirring on the skyline?) and welcome the windfarm? To that, the answer is yes. But then the issue becomes complex. Mainpower are asking for consent to build within a “design envelope” which stretches from a lot of little turbines, to a smaller number of really big ones. Which is the least visually intrusive? Depends where you’re looking from.

I’m pondering the options. The little turbines would be more or less invisible from my house – certainly not intrusive – but they would generate the least power and cover the largest area. I’m tempted to prefer the really big turbines, for a variety of reasons. Smaller ecological footprint and significantly greater power generation, but big 125m towers. That would mean making the most of the power available from a good site, and perhaps limit the need for a rash of sites in areas of greater visual beauty.

Submissions close on August 1st. I’m open to debate…

47 thoughts on “Sight of the wind”

  1. More important, can you resist using a jet aeroplane to Tasmania (and who knows where else)? Apparently not, which kind of makes a mockery of your beliefs.

  2. Some might even say that various landscapes are positively beautified by turbines. Brooklyn hill would be a poorer thing without its turbine, which also acts as a handy weather gauge for us. Today it is facing NW and spinning briskly.

  3. No donkeys. I prefer to make an ass of myself.

    SB: You have a point, but aesthetics can’t be ignored. There’s a balance to be struck. Where that balance lies in the Cass proposal is not clear to me yet. I suspect the ecological damage is quite small (though Jim Beau would probably disagree), and the Cass skyline is not in any sense “iconic” – unlike for instance the hills nearest to me, The Deans, whose shapes really define the valley visually. (I use rotating header pix – five of them – on my farm blog – one shows The Deans from just above my property, but you might get a dog, grapes, sunset, or pink clouds instead. Sorry.)

  4. Hi Gareth,

    At one point in time there was talk of building a wind farm at Baring Head near Wellington. This was resisted, including by some local environmental groups. I can understand why as the headland is beautiful and iconic. It’s also near my favourite surfing spots – so the area means a lot to me. But I still think the wind farm should have gone ahead.


    (1)Global Warming Matters. We have to make sacrifices and if we can’t even bear to modify a view are we ever going to tackle the problem?

    (2)Wind turbines with their motion and graceful silhouettes actually look quite beautiful, I think. Would they really wreck a farmed headland with a lighthouse on it?

  5. Windmills are an eyesore unless you are in Holland. Also the cost of generation is much higher than coal/hydro and un-reliable.

    The worlds not warming anyway, 7 years globally flat (according to GisTemp), why do the media not talk about this?

  6. to me, the question is, are these wind turbines going to reduce GHG gas emissions? and the answer is obviously no. unless, that is, there is a corresponding reduction of at least the same amount of generation from thermal sources.

    the argument, of course, is that if these windturbines aren’t built then MORE thermal generation will be needed to meet demand. and increasing electricity demand is partly a result of increasing GDP and population (although at least until recently electricity usage has been increasing faster than both GDP and population – i haven’t look at figures from the last year or two).

    so windpower that isn’t directly replacing thermal generation can only be considered to be a positive thing within the dominant paradigm of unconstrained economic growth – which is fundamentally unsustainable.

  7. Sid, not that it’s any of your business, but I grow trees. Lots of them. And I’m planting a lot more over this winter/spring. On my own property. They will provide more than enough carbon fixing over the next decade to render me carbon neutral or better (including a lot of flying, if necessary), and will also provide me with carbon neutral space heating (through burning coppiced wood).

  8. Peter Bickle:

    “Windmills are an eyesore unless you are in Holland.”

    So will windmills be OK as long as you don’t see them? I’m curious to know.

    Also, ever seen an oil platform or a nuclear reactor in person, Bickle? Now try imagining one right at your doorstep…

    “The worlds not warming anyway, 7 years globally flat (according to GisTemp), why do the media not talk about this?”

    I think the media are interested in new stories, not your stale talking points which have been hackneyed for at least 4 months straight.

    = =


    “the argument, of course, is that if these windturbines aren’t built then MORE thermal generation will be needed to meet demand.”

    In that sense, yes, the use of wind power does reduce the use of thermal power, and GHG emissions.

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  9. New Zealand is bursting to the brim with iconic landscapes, treasured most by those closest to them.

    So we nimby all windfarms off – to where? Offshore?

    Do you want a coal-fired power station next door? Why is nobody but Save Happy Valley campaigning to stop the destruction of an iconic valley from an open cast coal mine? because nobody lives next to it.

    Windfarms look fantastic – I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but seriously, if we don’t take up wind because people think they’re a bit ugly we’ll end up with nuclear or more coal. or a big fat dam across your favourite river.

    If it’s not near native bush then it won’t be a problem for the birds. I don’t know what other fauna is around…

    The noise issue is minimal – they have the technology these days. there’s a great stat somewhere showing that the objections on grounds of noise in Scotland fell from 80% to 2% after they were built.

    personally, I’d rather have a windfarm next door than global warming for all.

  10. Gareth. “They will provide more than enough carbon fixing over the next decade to render me carbon neutral or better (including a lot of flying, if necessary), and will also provide me with carbon neutral space heating (through burning coppiced wood).”

    Just a second there. If you coppice the wood then it’s not carbon neutral. The idea is that you take out of the atmosphere what your lifestyle puts in. If you then coppice and burn then you are re-releasing it. Secondly, I don’t think you’ll be planting enough trees, or rather enough large trees, to counter your addition if you fly a lot (which I guess you do) and lead a typical modern lifestyle. I’ve yet to meet anyone who is genuinely carbon neutral, and I certainly don’t think you are.

  11. Sidney:

    “Secondly, I don’t think you’ll be planting enough trees”

    How do you know? Then again, I admit you can probably ‘know’ via a Pielkean ‘there’s an argument to be made’ Jedi mind trick. Or maybe magic. And also, everyone knows that greenies are crypto-commies who kill babies. No need to actually do any sums… sums are for ivory-tower elitist pinkos.

    = =


    “Why is nobody but Save Happy Valley campaigning to stop the destruction of an iconic valley from an open cast coal mine? because nobody lives next to it.”


    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  12. If it’s not cloud cuckoo land you live in Sid, it’s certainly somewhere odd. Coppicing trees for firewood is certainly carbon neutral, because they re-grow. And I won’t be coppicing them all.

    You can make as many assumptions as you like about my carbon neutral status, but that doesn’t make them right…

    Back to wind: Cindy makes a good point. If the alternative to more wind is more hydro, you have to deal with much bigger impacts than the simple fact of building them.

  13. I agree with Cindy – I think turbines are beautiful in themselves.
    There’s a similar debate in Wellington about the trolley bus wires which can be viewed as hideous or can be viewed as enabling clean and sustainable transport (well, compared to diesel buses or private car use).
    I knew someone who built an ecohouse on Waiheke but was loath to install solar panels on the roof as she was concerned about the aesthetics of having a beautiful roof line that fitted into the landscape.

  14. Oh dear Gareth. You just don’t get it, do you? When you coppice and leave the choppings to rot, the carbon dioxide is released slowly, and the equivalent amount is taken up again by the growing tree. When you burn it you dump all that you have sequestered into the atmosphere in an hour or less. Has no one ever explained this to you before? This confirms to me that not only are you a hypocrite, but that you have no idea what you’re talking about either.

  15. “Back to wind: Cindy makes a good point. If the alternative to more wind is more hydro, you have to deal with much bigger impacts than the simple fact of building them.”

    Hydro is one alternative, but the opposition to the proposed Mokihinui hydro dam by Meridian Energy shows that its going to be a hard ask to build any more ‘think big’ type hydro.

    We really need to look beyond trying to satiate our insatiable demand for energy, how about bringing NZ into line with the rest of the OECD by reducing our electricity intensity? at the moment we are worse than both Australia and the US.

  16. I think aesthetics are an interesting dimension to consider in the whole sustainability debate. Some of the comments to this post imply that they will always rate second to other issues – like keeping the planet habitable. While in a sense that is true, in another sense aesthetic considerations are huge in terms of quality of life. If our species could survive by eating meat grown in concrete factories and being surrounded by artificial trees to absorb CO2 on a planet with almost no life in the sea and no rainforests remaining – would we want to? I think probably not, and that is an aesthetic rather than a survival argument. I like wind farms partly because they are so much more ‘pleasing’ than the structures that go along with fossil-fuel dervied power generation.

  17. Hi Gareth et al

    I’ll take your hint and put my response to Jim Beau in here – but first I’ll give a few thoughts based on the above comments:

    On Donkeys: – “Just do it”!

    On Visuals:
    I don’t think public opinion on aesthetics is a good way to decide on how our power is generated. In general, power generation is not pretty but wind turbines probably score most highly in many peoples acceptability criteria (except perhaps hydro lakes). As Carol points out there are people out there who don’t like solar panels and I heard a host on national radio this week saying she didn’t like CFL bulbs. A paradigm shift is needed here (borrowed slogan – “Get over it”).

    On wildlife:
    SB – bird strike hasn’t been found to be a major problem in NZ (a few magpies is the known score) even with Carol’s Brooklyn turbine sited next to the Karori wildlife sanctuary for the last 15 years. But the opinion of the Audobon Society is instructive, they accept some impacts from wind power because they see climate change as a greater threat.

    On ecology in general:
    This may be the big debate for this project, please see the following post for discussion on this issue with Jim Beau. Cindy, I am particularly interested in your views on this. In my opinion, the same principle applies, wind farms can’t have no impact, they are simply of less impact than our other options.

    On reducing GHG emissions:
    Rata – the answer is obviously “yes” even more directly than displacing the next thermal station. Huntly has been running hard out on coal and gas for the last 6 months and power has been flowing south over the Cook Straight cable for most of that time. Every bit of wind generation in that time has displaced (or will displace) fossil fuels.

    On costs:
    Regular readers here won’t associate Peter Bickle with informed comment, but just in case, wind power is competitive with all other forms of generation except perhaps the easiest of geothermal (ref NZ Energy Strategy) . Furthermore, once the up front costs are spent the only way to get your money back is to run the plant as much as possible. This means bid low in the wholesale power market. Having wind power available will always reduce the average cost of electricity in NZ’s market system. No question.

  18. Jim (ex Getting Windy in the front row)

    Of course we expect these ecology questions to be comprehensively dealt with in the consent hearing – where, no doubt, the evidence will be much longer than these posts. I will try and answer your points and I’ll try to be brief. Gareth might also prefer that we migrate this discussion to our own blog site, which I am attempting to revive, and ecology is a good subject for the next post.

    >“expertise or ……..objectivity”

    I can’t claim to be an ecological expert but I do understand the importance of biodiversity and the principles of sustainable development. I guess you can question my objectivity but I hope you also think about the objectivity of the experts that you are listening to. We know that some of the stuff you are hearing, or reading, is misleading. I am listening to at least two well respected and independent consultants and I have informally heard from other experts who can see the merits of what we are trying to achieve. The updated Assessment of Ecological Effects provided with the consent application is clear that impacts can be managed and in fact the long term effects are positive for the ecology of Mt Cass. There’s not room here to go into detail, but the AEE is available here.

    > “the specific area affected would seem to be both particularly sensitive and ecologically important.”

    We have done more than 80 survey plots in various veg types all over the hill resulting in the identification of 10 distinct communities (in addition to the rare plants) and meaning we have a very good knowledge of the potential impacts. The worst affected of these communities (in % terms) has a 6.3% loss (out of 8 ha) and as you might expect this is the community that is highest in the altitude sequence. But, in 1950 there was only 2 ha of this community on the site so there has been substantial regeneration under continued grazing of this ‘sensitive’ environment. We propose restrictions on grazing and pest and weed control. Again, in the view of the experts this will have a long term positive effect. You should also note that the real ecologically important stuff is a) the rare plants and b) the mature forest further down the hill and outside the project area.

    > “The problem with rare and endangered species”

    I am confident that we have more knowledge about this site than anyone else and that we do understand the impacts. The surveys we have undertaken were designed by ecological experts, in consultation with appropriate specialists (including DoC) and peer reviewed. MainPower has not attempted to influence the scope of the work, at all.
    I should also point out the quote you provide is (as you acknowledge) specific to invertebrates – not lizards, birds or plants. This refers to a known limitation with all terrestrial invertebrate surveys but the report concludes that even with these limitations, the survey results are sufficient to understand the invertebrate composition of Mt Cass. It also clearly states that the effects on invertebrates can be avoided or mitigated – and provides detail on this.

    >“Re-plant or replace any threatened plant species”

    Perhaps the wording there is ambiguous. Simply though, if a rare plant is in the construction footprint we will attempt to move it, if we can’t move it we will replace it with plants already propagated for the purpose from our own seed. There is no shortage of ‘micro-habitat’ on Mt Cass.
    I have also heard DoC say that they have had problems re-planting the limestone wheatgrass, but then, Brian Molloy has one growing in his garden.

    >“Where are you going to relocate these lizards to if you’ve just destroyed their habitat?”
    Seriously, you should have a good look at the drawings of what we propose for the site…to suggest that there will be no habitat left as a home for the lizards indicates to me that you are simply listening to ‘spin’ from your experts. There are many hectares of sunny rocks on the site and there will still be many hectares after the windfarm is built.

    >“Some plant and animal communities will no doubt thrive once these threats are reduced or removed. Yet other plant and animal communities may simply disappear…”

    Fortunately we have the ability to both eliminate grazing and allow regeneration to take place, or, allow continued light grazing where that is deemed best for survival of plants on part of the ridge.

    >“Mainpower seems just a tad economical with the truth when discussing the risks”
    You should read the new ecology report you will find it is far more detailed and has actually become a lot more confident that the overall outcome will be positive.
    We couldn’t agree with you more in relation to your comments on the balancing processes of the RMA. We know that the truth will out, there is no benefit to us in concealing anything.

    >“So let’s have all the information Mainpower has collected on alternatives to this site”
    You won’t find any new information on alternative sites in the latest version, perhaps you can tell me what you would hope to find and what you would do with the information.
    We have to acknowledge the botanical expertise of some of the projects opponents but I can tell you that they know very little about the wind and the assumption that there is no shortage of wind out here is just that, an assumption.
    Do people seriously think that if we had a viable alternative site we would be chasing this one? Why would we?

  19. I can’t believe that someone with such strong views on climate change can be anything but happy about the prospect of new windmills going up near their home or anywhere else. I regularly check in here and enjoy reading through the comments. If someone like yourself Gareth won’t support the wind industry we’re screwed.

    This is very disappointing 🙁

  20. I think you’ve misread my original post, Gary. My question is more about what size turbines they use, than the fact of the windfarm. But there are other valid issues to consider too – ecological impact being one of them.

  21. And, Gary, I wouldn’t have said that Gareth has ‘strong views’. I would have said that he is ‘well-informed’ about climate change.

  22. I already have them in my “back yard”. 🙂

    The nearest farm is at Boyndie, about an hour’s walk from my home, consisting of seven Vesta 2Mw turbines on an old WWII airstrip. The rotors are 80 metres in diameter.

    It’s something of a tourist attraction. I visit regularly (it’s a nice walk).

    From Boyndie, I can see the two experimental 5Mw offshore turbines at the Beatrice oilfield with the naked eye on a clear day (but they look much better through binoculars). These were the largest turbines on the planet when they were constructed (and might still be, I haven’t checked).

    At nearby Birnie, we have a farm of 23 2Mw turbines and they’re very much on the skyline. They are highly visible, approximately half the windows of the nearest large hospital look out onto them. Having had a reason to visit the hospital, I found that watching the turbines was very relaxing (rather like looking at waves on the beach).

    I’m a fan (in case you hadn’t guessed).

    I do have some photos if you’re interested, but I don’t know the best way of delivering them – email is simplest, but I could construct a small website if the interest is there.

  23. [This got held up by the spam filter: sorry Jim]


    My comments on the updated Assessment of Ecological Effects will have to wait for now. I will read it but have a daytime job to hold down. Please alert me to other parts of the proposal that have materially altered since it was first posted. That would be a great help in getting me up to speed.

    There may well be a lack of objectivity on both sides but I myself am trying to see the big picture. [The interested reader might like to read both and I tend to be a bit sceptical of expert opinions where these have been paid for. I’ve done enough consulting myself to know that the consultant seldom bites the hand that feeds it. In The Press (see link above), Mainpower’s Allan Berge is quoted as saying “We have had an independent ecological assessment of the proposal which says the wind farm will result in only minor or no adverse impacts.” Which is really quite funny – there must be a meaning of the word “independent” of which I was previously unaware. Unless of course Golder Associates did their assessment for free – that’s theoretically possible I suppose.

    On the other side, conservationists and ecologists tend to be a bit over-dramatic. But with no shortage of battles to fight, they tend to pick the biggest targets. They typically don’t get paid to do what they do, or get paid very little, so when they get excited, I tend to prick up my ears. Here’s what Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Board chairman Murray Parsons had to say: “We’re stunned that Mainpower is even considering this site as they claim to be environmentally responsible and there are alternatives nearby.”

    And that’s why I asked you, Andrew, to tell us more about these alternatives. It seems as if Mainpower has looked at 9 sites in total and established trial turbines in two of these sites, Mt Cass and Doctors Hill (see You write: “We know that the truth will out, there is no benefit to us in concealing anything.” Well that’s great – please make public useful information about these alternatives. I would anticipate that, before siting trial turbines, someone at Mainpower wrote an internal report summarising the relative merits of these 9 sites and recommending trials at Mt Cass and Doctors Hill. And then, after trials were complete and before more detailed planning began on the Mt Cass option, I would anticipate that someone wrote an internal report summarising trial data and the relative merits of the two trial sites. So Andrew, could we please have access to these two reports – or whatever equivalents exist? After all, there’s nothing to hide, is there?

    You write “You won’t find any new information on alternative sites in the latest version, perhaps you can tell me what you would hope to find and what you would do with the information.” First I don’t hope to find anything in particular. But don’t you think society would make better decisions if we had access to all the relevant information? Second it amazes me how little information on the available alternatives seems to be considered necessary in resource concept applications. Ok so I’ve really only studied a couple in depth – this and Project Hayes.

    At first sight, this sort of information would seem obligatory. The Fourth Schedule to the RMA describes what has to be included in an assessment of effects on the environment. [See – jeepers the internet is a wonderful thing.] Section 1 says “an assessment of effects on the environment for the purposes of section 88 (6) should include: (a) A description of the proposal: (b) Where it is likely that an activity will result in any significant adverse effect on the environment, a description of any possible alternative locations or methods for undertaking the activity…”

    So that’s why you need an “independent” consultant to tell you that your proposal “will result in only minor or no adverse impacts.” If they say anything else, you are required to spill the beans on all the alternatives. Clever eh? Come on Andrew, time to come clean. Let’s have access to internal reports on the relative merits of alternative sites.

  24. S2: I’m certainly interested in your photo’s and am also very interested in finding out more about the public access to the land based wind farms (eg what facilities are provided, any restrictions on when you can go etc).

    You can email me via:

    I’m also interested in the two turbines at the michelin factory in Dundee…what do the neighbours think of those. The shadows look amazing on GoogleEarth (near the biggest roof in the east end of Dundee for anyone who wants to look). Of course you may not know any locals but you are the closest contact I’ve got so I thought it was worth a try.


  25. Thanks for expressing an interest – I’ve sent you an email with some photos.

    I don’t know about the Dundee turbines, but as they’re rated at 2Mw they’re likely to be about the same size as the ones on my local farm (diameter 80 metres).

  26. The more I think about my last post, the more I think I’m on to something. This is great trick. In my first contribution to this site, I wrote “Threatened plant and lizard habitats are, to my mind, the key issues with Mt Cass; the effect on the landscape is the key issue with Project Hayes.”

    Within the Project Hayes proposal, there was also remarkably little information on alternative sites. And they had a landscape architect who asserted that the proposal would have only a minor visual impact. Which is quite comical when you think about it. Of course if their expert had said anything else, they would then have had to discuss the alternative. Which I expect they didn’t want to do.

    I now have this vision of humourless consultants in grey suits giving earnest lectures on how to subvert the RMA. Surely this trick is well known and I, being somewhat wet behind the ears, have only just figured it out for myself.

    The Project Hayes landscape expert showed real mental agility arriving at his conclusion. But if you can, get hold of the evidence of Benjamin Espie, a landscape architect hired by the Central Otago District Council to advise the Council. I think Ben is as independent as you’re going to get on the subject. My guess is that the Council just wanted good advice – their motivation was (probably) just to avoid spending too much time in court. His conclusions have greatly influenced my own thinking. In conclusion he writes “I believe that the proposal will have significant adverse effects on amenity values. I do not know whether these will be outweighed by other positive effects or not; they may be. However, I believe that it is critical that we go into the weighing up exercise with a clear and honest representation of the degree of landscape effect. I do not believe that this degree of effect can realistically be described as minor.”

    The point is – and this is relevant to the many posts above on the attractiveness or otherwise of wind turbines – at some sites they look like they belong. And at other sites – such as the remote rolling tussock hills of the Lammermoors – they will be an eyesore. My own opinion – for what it’s worth – is that turbines might look ok on Mt Cass but on the Lammermoors, they’d stick out like a nun on a ski field.

    But if your expert says that, then you have to discuss the alternatives. And then it might come up – and again this is just a guess on my part – that your proposal is more based on the proximity of the Lammermoors to the Roxburgh – Three Mile Hill transmission line and not on the superlative generating capacity of this particular site. Not such a good look. Same could be true of Mt Cass. Might not look so good if – for example, you could get almost as good generating capacity on a less environmentally sensitive site – but at Mt Cass you can get the land cheap from the owners of the Kate Valley landfill next door.

    I realise I’m starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist. Which is pathetic I know, but in Mainpower’s proposal I read that “Transwaste owns and operates Kate Valley landfill. Transwaste, via its subsidiary Tiromoana Station Ltd, owns the Mt Cass Farm. Following negotiations with MainPower, that part of Mt Cass Farm within which the proposal is situated is being sold to MainPower.”

    Lord I have a suspicious mind. Andrew – tell me it isn’t true.

  27. Jim

    Calm down…as I read the above I was thinking, wow…there is enough conspiracy building in here for you to suddenly make a flip to the climate denial camp. It was a relief to see that you noticed the build up yourself too.

    It might help you to know that we had an agreement to investigate and build a wind farm on Mt Cass in 1997 – about 6 years before Transwaste got hold of the land. Our right simply transferred with the title.

    It wasn’t our intention to buy the land but we are glad we got the opportunity because it makes it a lot easier to offset the local impacts and provide some other benefits like improving public access.

    I hope that helps.

    I’m working on a response to the other long series of questions. But today I am supposed to be renovating!

    Cheers, Andrew

  28. Jim – re your first query (ex 27/06 13:51)
    Other parts of the proposal materially altered include the road alignments and turbine locations, these changes were driven by the latest ecological work.

  29. And…

    When we describe our consultants as independent it is because they may (eventually) be expected to provide evidence in accordance with the environment court’s code of ethics (i.e. independently and within their own expertise).

    Another reason is that the first question we asked all our consultants is whether the project had any ‘fatal flaws’. It would be illogical for any consultant to just say what the client wants to hear at that point because it will only come back to haunt them later. I had 20 years in consulting myself and there are certainly times that you just have to tell clients they are on the wrong track.

    You do acknowledge that environmentalists tend to get overdramatic and that certainly seems the case this time. You provide the link to the conservation boards comments and a quote from the chair – here’s a couple of other quotes:
    “The Board says this kind of limestone landscape with outcrops and karst topography provides the habitat for 20% of nationally threatened plants, and Mt Cass supports plants that are not found anywhere else.”

    The reality is that there are no plants unique to Mt Cass and the site supports more like 1% of nationally threatened and rare plant species. This statement is misleading at best.

    And, “This will devastate ecosystems, plants, birdlife and insects, right along this ridge, removing huge areas of bush.”

    Is 2.2 ha really huge? That’s the amount of bush that will be cleared – it’s only 1.2% of the 187 ha of bush in the area. Will whole ecosystems really be devastated?

    Really – we are not proposing a scorched earth policy! Overdramatic hardly describes it!

  30. Jim. I’m glad you are trying to see the big picture … it is the big picture that makes us think this project is one we should go ahead with and it is why we look forward to the balancing of the RMA process.
    We have to do enough work in preparing the application to make a judgement on where we think the balance lies. Our opponents of course have no obligation to consider anything other than a single viewpoint and that is what we (you and I) currently hear from them.

    Lastly, alternatives (again). Gareth provides a useful link to the Economist article in his Whispering Wind post. In there they say, “A difference of as little as one or two kilometres an hour in average wind speed can have a significant effect on electrical output.”

    We know from our work that Mt Cass is the best wind site that we are monitoring and yet the economics are on a knife-edge. The other sites are not currently economic to pursue and that is why we are not pursuing them. There is no ‘internal report’ just applied logic.

    And, all this talk about alternatives seems to assume there are nil environmental impacts with these other sites. The first thing Forest and Bird said when we mentioned Doctors Hill’s to them was that there are NZ Falcon there. Other sites we are looking at have outstanding landscape designations.

    Unfortunately, we do not have access to every property in North Canterbury but if you know of an alternative site that you think is good enough (or better still – you own it) please let us know – we would be happy to look into it.

  31. Andrew

    Thanks for letting me know where changes have been made – hope to have time to look at the updated proposal this weekend.

    But to reply to your last post, clearly I don’t know as much as you about alternatives. I don’t pretend to. That’s why I’m asking you for information. And you keep fudging your answers. I’ve asked you for access to internal reports describing the alternatives or access to “whatever equivalents exist”. Are you trying to tell me that Mainpower doesn’t document its decision-making? Common on Andrew – I’m not a complete idiot.

    And don’t try to tell me that they’ll be too technical or some other such nonsense. Somewhere there will be a summary for management and I should be able to understand that. Sure the alternatives will come with ecological disadvantages as well, but that will all be covered in your internal documentation. So why won’t you let me have this information?

  32. Gareth – after some prompting I had a closer read of your final para – right back at the original post. I should point out that the small turbines (Windflow 500) don’t have a larger ecological footprint than the biggies. There may be more of them but each individual is very small and there are some innovative ways of getting them into the tight spots.

    So, you can confidently back them from a visual and ecological perspective.

    Yes there is less power – but there is less cost too so in ‘bang for your buck’ they should be in the same ballpark as the others.

    cheers, Andrew

  33. Jim

    Let’s try this again…there is no report in the way you imagine it. There was no tidy spot in time where we could sit back and evaluate all options weighing up their various merits and coming down marginally in favour of Mt Cass. It is an ongoing process of bringing on new sites, establishing masts, evaluating data, benchmarking against established sites etc. We are still doing this.

    A couple of years ago we started looking closer at Mt Cass. It had the best wind resource – so it made sense to look there first. We did feasibility studies and concluded the site looked like an economic
    prospect with no insurmountable hurdles in other areas.

    We have not done the same feasibility studies for any other site (yet) because they do not look as if they are economic (yet).

    If your desired report existed, its summary for management would say pretty much what we told you in the last post (and in the one before) ie

    “This site [insert name] does not appear economic at this time but may become so in future, maintain watching brief”

    Tell me you understand this, or should I assume that you are what you say you are not.

    Now, how about a thought experiment, let’s assume your desired report exists and I supply it to you. What would you do with it?

    Obviously you can say that you won’t know until you see it, but (since this is an experiment) why not consider two extremes:
    a) It says exactly what I have said it would, or;
    b) There is a smoking gun? (you can enlighten me as to what this might be)

    The way I see it what you would do with b) is fairly obvious….object strenuously to our consent application.

    For a) I’d really like to know how such information would affect your thinking on the project.



  34. Andrew

    Let’s try this again. Mainpower’s proposal comes at a cost to society. There will be a certain amount of environmental damage. Through the consent process, Mainpower is asking society to accept this damage because of the benefit to society that will accrue if the proposal goes ahead. Society is entitled to ask could we get nearly the same benefit with less environmental damage? It’s a fair question and in the RMA there is an expectation that this question should be asked – and answered (see the Fourth Schedule, Section 1b). Conservationists claim there are alternatives. Mainpower has investigated alternatives. It is difficult for society to judge the relative worth of Mainpower’s proposal in the absence of information about alternatives. I am asking Mainpower to provide information about alternatives.

    The words you use – “smoking gun”, “there is no benefit to us in concealing anything” – these are your words; not mine. I’m not expecting to “find” anything. There is no conspiracy. If you go back to my first post – many moons ago – I wrote “I do wonder whether this needs to be addressed at a national level. That is, nationally we need to survey possible sites so that we are then in a better position to weigh up the merits of any one proposal.” And you said, that’s not practical – that would take too long. And I said “I can appreciate the need to act sooner rather than later. But making good decisions is also important.” I accept that this information doesn’t exist at the national level – which is truly unfortunate, and a sad reflection of governmental failure to plan for future energy supply – but some information does exist at a local level. Except apparently Mainpower has not provided this information on the alternatives in its proposal. And apparently Mainpower isn’t going to provide this information, even if I ask nicely.

    Now let’s suppose there’s an alternative site that’s not economic to develop “at this time” but if developed would lead to less environmental damage. Society might collectively say to itself “well, that time will come soon enough, so let’s not accept the current proposal because there is an alternative that’s more attractive to us.” Tell me you understand this – that Mainpower and society have different perspectives. From Mainpower’s perspective, the Mt Cass proposal is economically attractive. But society takes a broader view than this.

    I am trying to weigh up the costs and benefits of this proposal relative to other alternatives – and I expect I’m not alone. Mainpower has information relevant to this exercise. Mainpower is not – apparently – willing to make this information available to others.

  35. Hi Jim

    Perhaps we are speaking at crossed purposes. The point I am trying to get across is that an option which can’t be built (for any reason) isn’t really an option.

    Economics is as good a reason as any other why a project can’t be built and my expectation is that this is about as far as the RMA will expect us to go wrt alternatives. Indeed, it is as far as we can go.

    You want to weigh up the costs and benefits, but can you tell me the currency?

    What are the ‘benefits’ of a proposal which may never be built? What is the ‘cost’ difference between say, a hectare of pasture, a hectare of mingi-mingi and a single limestone wheatgrass?

    Do you know? – ‘cos I sure don’t.

    It will be far more productive to focus on the site in question. We believe the ecological impacts can be fully addressed, on site. There may be some temporary loss but this will a) be minor and b) be more than compensated for by the other benefits – reduced CO2 etc.

    Discussion around these issues is far more pertinent than the ‘alternatives’.


    PS MainPower and ‘society’
    I believe that MainPower has a view that is a reasonable reflection of society in general. Of course, there are some in society who hold different views.

  36. “I get the feeling we are in the midst of a gold rush with respect to wind farm proposals. In the consent applications that are then filed, little space is devoted to discussing alternative sites. I do wonder whether this needs to be addressed at a national level. That is, nationally we need to survey possible sites so that we are then in a better position to weigh up the merits of any one proposal.”


    Well now there is some information available at a national level. Not as much as one might hope for perhaps, but what is available is well worth reading. As part of planning for future transmission, Connell Wagner produced a report for the Electricity Commission on the potential for wind generation in New Zealand. They used meteorological and GIS modelling to identify the best locations around the country for wind generation. The relevant documents can be found at In particular, download Appendix 4: Final wind report “Transmission to enable renewables – Economic wind resource study”.

    The Electricity Commission also commissioned two further reports on the potential for further geothermal and hydro generation. The three reports did not take the same approach to identifying renewable energy resources because “the amount of available information varies significantly between the resource categories”. Existing databases were used to evaluate the potential for further geothermal and hydro generation but for wind, only “minimal information was available” (Final report of the transmission to enable renewables project (phase 1), section 3.3). So the Connell Wagner report, dated 25 March 2008, may well be the best information available at the national level on the potential for wind power.

    Before discussing the results of their modelling, first some caveats. This is “mesoscale” modelling of weather patterns using a single year of data and GIS modelling of the interaction of predicted wind speeds with the terrain using a 3 km spatial resolution. [“Mesoscale” refers to meteorological phenomena that range in size from 40 metres to about 4 kilometres.] So this modelling can identify good locations for wind but not specific sites within these locations. Excluded from modelling was terrain above 1500m, slopes of 10 degrees or greater on average, urban areas, waterways and national parks.

    Connell Wagner classify wind resources into three “economic tranches” and I’ll just focus on Tranche 1 – “areas that will be economic for development in the near future” with break-even power prices in the order of $75 to $90 / MWh (Appendix 4, section 3.3). They conclude that “The total quantities of potential generation are very large, with the quantity for each tranche being greater than the total installed capacity of the New Zealand power system” (Appendix 4, section 4.1).

    In Tranche 1, 62% of the potential generating capacity lies in the North Island with only 38% in the South. Regions with more than 5% of the country’s potential capacity are: Manawatu (22%), Southland (18%), Wellington (14%), Hawkes Bay (12%), Otago (8%) and North Canterbury (7%). Existing capacity generally has the same regional distribution as model results except for a larger proportion of capacity in the upper North Island, where the electricity price is higher and grid connection is easier, and a lower proportion in Canterbury (Appendix 4, section 4). Connell Wagner note that “consentability” will greatly reduce the capacity that can be developed (Appendix 4, section 4.1).

    To my mind, these results provide support for those in Otago who protest that once again their region is being plundered to supply energy for the rest of the country. And these results also suggest to me that there’s plenty of wind out there, even within regions such as North Canterbury, so there’s really no need to trash environmentally sensitive sites for wind power. It seems we can afford to be selective both at a regional level and at a local level. It’s a real shame that those who have information on the potential for wind generation at the local level seem so reluctant to share it.

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