Tilting at windmills

The long-running saga of a Blueskin Bay wind farm is riven with disappointment. 

What began with good intentions and hoped-for environmental benefits has turned sour.

Turbines on Porteous Hill have been opposed by many, and the Environment Court has agreed the latest proposal, for a single turbine, would be in a "highly memorable" place and would have significant adverse effects on landscape and visual effects and the value of existing amenities.

The Environment Court upheld the Dunedin City Council planning decision on the matter and, if no appeal is lodged with the High Court, this is certainly the end of the road for that site.

There have been many, including and notably wind farm co-ordinator Scott Willis, who have put thousands of hours and uncountable thought and emotion into the project. Their disappointment and frustration must be intense.

Opponents, however, say common sense has prevailed. A representative from the Blueskin Amenity and Landscape Society, formed in opposition to the wind farm,  has said it was time for the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust to say enough was enough.

The trust had its origins in the community response to the  2006 flood in Waitati, and, from 2008, the wind farm idea began.  At that time, Mr Willis said he was amazed at the will in the community to get things done.

Many meetings were held, and by 2011 and 2012  it was hoped that if the community could  get the scheme right, it could be just one of many community wind turbine clusters around the region and the country. Originally, it was hoped the wind farm could provide cheaper electricity for locals. 

Given the complexities of the grid and electricity  system, this was not possible, and the idea morphed into the project supplying the national grid and profits being returned to the community.  Some of the local support would have dropped off at that point.

Unless Blueskin Electricity Ltd can find another site, and anywhere else could easily raise the ire of those living nearby, the future for the plan looks bleak, as does the prospect of any similar projects in other places for the same reasons.

The communities around Blueskin Bay are renowned for their environmental consciousness.  If the plan would work anywhere,  it might have been expected to have succeeded in this area.

But good intentions are not enough.

This country has planning laws under the Resource Management Act, and that allows for opposition to be heard. That disapproval is then tested at the territorial authority level.  Either party can go to the Environment Court as a higher referee.

It does not matter whether the developer is a high-minded environmentalist or not. 

The Act will treat any application according to its specific merits and the law.

Would better consultation have worked?  Perhaps not.  If the result is opposed, the process is likely to be disparaged as well.

While the energy project was one of the trust’s two flagship endeavours,  it has other interests it has and can pursue, notably a house project. 

The trust’s website says it will design and then build a climate safe house along research into whole community solutions, and appraisal of future risk. 

This was launched last year, and the trust says it is collaborating with Otago Polytechnic.

The trust also operates a "cosy homes advice" telephone line, a firewood programme, insulation, a community office and other services.

The  turbine project faced headwinds that proved too strong.  It also appears some of the claims about it were overblown.

The community around Blueskin Bay is strong and committed in all sorts of ways. It must be hoped this project and its aftermath do not undermine those strengths.  Its resilience is being tested.

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