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Why the Genesis Wind Farm Never Stood a Chance

Why the Genesis Wind Farm never stood a Chance.

There has been a mixed reaction to the decision to decline the application by Genesis Energy to construct a 19 turbine windfarm on the wind-swept Awhitu Peninsula, 7km west of Waiuku on the Manukau Heads, south of Auckland.

The Franklin District Council’s two independent commissioners rejected the wind farm because of its impact on the visual environment, equestrian events and Maori cultural values.

The Genesis chief executive, Murray Jackson, is reported as being surprised and deflated by the decision because the site has good wind characteristics and is close to the greater Auckland load area.

While Franklin’s local “environmentalists” are celebrating their victory, Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor called the decision to decline the application “surprising” and “bizarre”.

“The decision seems to say that local landscape effects and effects on horses are more important than the national and international interest in renewable energy,” he said. The Society has been prominent in the debate over protecting New Zealand's natural landscapes from residential development, but Mr Taylor said it was likely the Society would support Genesis if it appealed against this decision to the Environment Court.

Genesis is considering an appeal against the decision.

An appeal will almost certainly lose given the current wording of section 6 of the Act, which unfortunately requires that decision makers “shall recognize and provide for the following matters of national importance”, and 6(a) opens the list by referring to:

The preservation of the natural character of the coastal environment (including the coastal marine area), wetlands, and lakes and rivers and their margins, and the protection of them from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development;

In explaining their decision to decline the application commissioners Alan Watson and Norman Thom said that the adverse visual effects of the giant turbines could not be mitigated enough in order to win approval under the Resource Management Act. The commissioners said the visual effects of the turbines at Awhitu “would be adverse and detract from the natural character of the locality”.

Anyone who has seen the montages of the wind turbines sitting on the rolling hills of the coastline would have to agree. These turbines do indeed detract from “the natural character of the coastal environment” and nothing can be done to mitigate this adverse effect. If you screen a windturbine, or make it shorter, or plant trees around the site, the turbines no longer work.

The commissioners got it right and I strongly suspect that an environment court judge will agree with them. Gary Taylor may find the decision “bizarre” but he should not have been “surprised”.

This requirement to preserve the “natural character” has encouraged a horde of landscape consultants to persuade the courts that architecture or engineering are abhorrent in the landscape and especially in the coastal area. The trouble is that New Zealand is dominated by the coastline and it’s a vital part of our heritage.

The traditional “term of endearment” in environmental law has always been “amenity” rather than “character” – and “amenity” has served us well.

The difference is that an area or landscape can change and still retain amenity. The Greeks could build the Parthenon on the Acropolis without detracting from amenity – but the Parthenon destroys the natural character of the Acropolis. The Golden Gate bridge enhances the visual amenity of the San Francisco Bay but degrades the natural character of the headlands. The Sydney Opera House is a famous architectural icon but degrades the natural character of the Rocks. The Statue of Liberty degrades the natural character of Staten Island. Tamaki Drive enhances the amenity of scores of thousands of Auckland drivers every day but it would never survice the “natural character” test today.

Any change to any environment changes its character.

Protecting character is a recipe for killing innovation and change, and disallows the expression of human aspirations through great architecture and engineering.

Most people enjoy architecture and engineering works. Tourists poured in to view the Boulder Dam being built in Nevada, and many New Zealanders tourist trips include visits to our own hydro-electric dams and viaducts and other works of engineering and architecture.

I personally believe that the windturbines can enhance the visual amenity of the coast with their wonderful contrast between the classic forms of engineering and the chaotic forms of nature. They complement each other. Sadly our landscape consultants do not allow the word “complement” to invade their lexicon.

It is all very well for Gary Taylor to call the decision “bizarre” because he happens to approve of renewable energy. But his own Society and the landscape consultants he puts on the witness stand have done probably more than anyone to cement in place the view that no human artifact should be allowed to degrade the natural character of the New Zealand coastline. The end result is that only the richest can now afford a beach house.

Until the words “natural character” are removed from section 6(a) of the RMA coastal windfarms cannot survive the RMA consent process – no matter how great the general enthusiasm for renewable energy may be in our corridors of power.

If we can use this “bizarre” decision to remedy this flaw in the legislation then the whole country will benefit.

I, for one, would much prefer to live in a country where the efforts of our greatest architects and engineers were seen to be a source of wonder and delight rather than something to be rejected, or camouflaged or otherwise hidden from view.

Owen McShane


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