Waiuku locals concerned about proposed wind turbines less than 500m from homes

A proposal to build some of New Zealand's tallest onshore wind turbines within 500m of people's homes has been labelled "devastating" by locals in the Waiuku area, but the Waikato District Council has no rules that require wind farms to be a certain distance from residences.

Willy Muir's family has farmed the land between Waiuku and Maioro for six generations.

The ridgeline behind his house was once the site of a fortified pā.

He's concerned about the proposed Waiuku Wind Farm, which is being processed under fast-track consenting legislation brought in after COVID-19 to help boost the economy.

The wind farm site is just over a kilometre from his farm.

"We're worried about the desecration of [the archeological sites]," Muir said.

"We really appreciate and understand the value that this has for us, that's a big concern."

Ngāti te Ata said the iwi is not against renewable energy projects, but that the location of the proposed windfarm presents a "huge risk of destroying the iwi's cultural heritage".

Down the road are Ange and Clint Julian, who moved to Maioro three years ago for the peace and quiet.

Their house will be roughly 500m from the nearest turbine, and they said they weren't offered any compensation.

"It's been devastating for us," Clint Julian said. "Health-wise, and our property values and everything are gone."

The wind farm proposal is currently awaiting review by an expert panel under the COVID-19 recovery fast-track legislation.

It's a process Muir and other members of the Waiuku Rural Preservation Society feel didn't give them enough of a say.

"We haven't been told much at all, it's hard to get any information," Muir said.

It's not Muir's first encounter with renewable energy developers.

He confirmed to Newshub he has been approached by solar company Trilect about a potential development on his land.

He's also been approached by wind developers in the past, but said he doesn't currently have plans to go ahead with either.

Newshub also spoke to John Southworth, the developer involved with the Waiuku Wind Farm project, who declined to comment.

Waiuku Wind Farm will feed up to 326 gigawatt-hours per annum into the national grid, that's about 0.75 percent of what New Zealand generates each year.

This all comes at a time when the country faces soaring demand - it's predicted electricity demand will grow by almost 70 percent by 2050 as the population grows, the transport fleet electrifies and industry switches away from fossil fuels.

Transpower estimates New Zealand will need to almost double its renewable electricity generation by 2050.

The proposed wind turbines at Waiuku will be 190m tall - that's about as high as the Sky Tower's viewing deck.

South Taranaki's onshore turbines are 160m tall and those in Te Uku near Raglan are 130m tall.

There's another proposal also awaiting consent under the fast-track legislation to build 220m turbines in Southland.

Clint Julian said it's not that they're opposed to wind turbines.

"We lived in Waiuku prior to this and we could see the ones at Karioitahi," he said.

"It's just strictly how close they are to us, it's right on top of our house."

The developer is complying with the regulations in place.

In a statement, Waikato District Council told Newshub: "There are no specific rules in the council's district plans that require wind farm activities to be set back from buildings."

Different councils have different rules.

In Palmerston North district, an existing wind farm has a turbine just 470m from the nearest dwelling.

The council has since changed the setback distance from new dwellings to 1.5km.

There are other potential impacts on local wildlife like endangered banded dotterels, the eastern bar-tailed godwit, Australian bitterns and long-tailed bats.

The Waiuku windfarm's consent documents note the potential for adverse effects on threatened birds and bats, and will have measures in place to reduce collision risk.

But Franklin local Billy Mclean, who has learnt much about bat roosting areas in his job as an arborist, thinks the ecological value of the area has been underestimated.

"Green energy is a great concept if it's truly green, but you must calculate all the costs," Mclean said.