Tilting at Windmills

Tilting at Windmills

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Guest essay by Andi May

If you had told me a year ago that I would willingly move into proximity of a windfarm, I would have laughed. Yet this is precisely what I have done.

Wellington’s South Coast lies on the very southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, and is renowned for the winds that blow here. In fact Wellington is known as the Windy City – or at least New Zealand’s version of it.

My new home sits on a hill overlooking Cook Strait (the water separating North and South Islands), at a height of 400 metres. The prevailing winds alternate between northerly and southerly. Rarely do I get anything from either east or west. Yet the views are simply stunning, especially the sunsets!

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Yet the views are simply stunning

Running roughly due north from the coast are a series of windfarms stretching many kilometres, the closest is less than a kilometre away from me. From my door I count 32 masts, but there are many more to the north hidden from view.

Fortunately for me, a huge gully runs between my home and the windfarms, and as the Northerly or Southerly blows, all sound is whisked away by the breeze. I have rarely been aware of any infra-sound. I feel nothing but sympathy for those who are closer and affected. Certainly for those who lived peacefully before having windfarms forced on them. At least I had the choice of living here or not!

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But here at the Coast where I live, these are baby windmills by the accounts of many, being a mere 47 metres in overall height. I understand to the north lie taller ones with Mill Creek having 26 Siemens 2.3MW wind turbines each 110 metres tall.

But where did New Zealand’s love of Windmills start?

In 1993, Wellington City Council in conjunction ECNZ (Electricity Corporation of New Zealand) installed the Brooklyn wind turbine as part of a research project.

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The original Vesta V27 wind turbine installed at the top of locally renowned Brooklyn Hill in the Te Kopahou Reserve. The turbine was small by many standards at about 45 metres from ground to tip of the blade. The Vestas V27 turbine has a blade length of 13.5 meters. The turbine tower is 31 metres tall, has a capacity of 225 kilowatts (or 0.225 megawatts) and weighs 22.8 tonnes.

It became quite a prominent landmark, clearly visible over the city and attracting visitors by the score.

Yet by 2010, 7 years after installation, the turbine failed and was out of action for months. It was finally repaired but by 2016 it really had passed its sell-by date.

Surveys showed a surprising 85% of local residents wanted to retain such a landmark windmill at the site, and a decision was made to remove the Vesta V27 and replace it with something bigger and better. The Vesta was on-sold to be reused in a smaller project.

Here’s a YouTube time-lapse video of the new construction:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NuC2gG1ie8&feature=youtu.be

The new turbine, an Enercon E44, has a tip height of 67 metres (an increase of 22 metres) and weighs around 47 tonnes.it has a plated capacity of 900 kilowatts.

Brooklyn was used as a testing ground for wind energy in New Zealand, yet it seems fraught with problems.

I drive past this turbine on an almost daily basis, yet it can be out of action for weeks on end and is constantly visited by maintenance personnel.

Another weird thing I have noticed, is that on the calmest of days, when you could drop a feather and watch it fall straight at your feet, the turbine is turning merrily away. At the same time, the local windfarms a few kilometres away lay idle. So just what is going on I wonder?

Seen as a draw card for tourists, with the most spectacular views over Wellington, it is promoted by Wellington City Council. Many of the tour operators meeting the Cruise Liners as they arrive with their passengers more than willing to pay to be escorted up here.

I have to wonder if we are paying to keep the blades turning just to impress tourists? Just sayin!

Nonetheless, Brooklyn was, and still is, seen as the posterchild of modern-day wind energy generation in GodZone. That despite its low delivery rate. Add to that the fact that we frequently get windless days. But the majority of the time during the winter months at least, the winds can be pretty ferocious.

But back to my neighbouring windfarms.

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These are baby windmills

Local windfarms making up this series in Wellington that I know of are Long Gully, Terawhiti, Makara and Mill Creek – with more planned. RES spent many years trying to obtain consent to construct a huge windfarm in one of our last remaining Regional Parks at Akatarawa – but everything is stalled at present and local opposition has been stiff, including one Court case. My name is proudly on the list of speakers in opposition.

Whilst I retain fond memories of this area, having been introduced to the ruggedness of the location nearly 30 years ago, I can’t help but feel the area is despoiled for little or no benefit. Indeed reading some posts I suspect that these actually add to CO2 emissions rather than diminish them.

Couple that to the fact that they lie dormant so many times that one has to wonder where the energy is coming from.

New Zealand is blessed with a huge Hydro reserve and is exploiting Geothermal Energy in the central North Island volcanic region. Ironically NZ government refuses to recognise either Hydro or Geothermal as “Renewable” – if they did we would climb the international scales significantly.

So this headlong rush to despoil GodZone’s once idyllic landscapes continue unabated.

In some locations as here, these are well away from public gaze, so what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over. However, in others, such as the Manawatu Region, the whole countryside is littered with these windfarms on ridgelines visible for miles around as here below:-

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But perhaps all is not lost. The following quote from the New Zealand Wind Energy Association gives some hope:-

Wind farms are no longer eligible for carbon credits, although some developers have yet to collect the credits they were granted under the PRE. The last round of the PRE was in 2004. Wind farms will not receive a free allocation of carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme. Wind farms are built today only if they can generate electricity at a cost that is competitive with other forms of generation. (highlighting mine)

However, it may all be changing as New Zealand has just elected a coalition Government with the Greens holding significant sway.

So to answer the question – Why Move Here?

Well, I have superb views with stunning sunsets, I am fortunate that the windfarm doesn’t bother me with infrasound although it is an eyesore. Couple that with the fact that I enjoy the remoteness this location affords – after all I am 8.8Km from the nearest tar seal!!!

I also fell in love with the area many years ago before the windfarm was even thought of, so I consider myself very fortunate indeed to live here and completely off-grid to boot!

Superforest,Climate Change

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