If you keep up with the news then you could be excused for thinking that the majority of New Zealanders don’t like wind farms, but that’s not really the case.
Take this recent article from Stuff for example. Based on the headline you might assume that DOC isn’t in favour of wind farms which would naturally lead you to ask: “What do they want then? Coal??”
But if you read on a little further, you see that DOC doesn’t actually have a problem with the wind farm itself. They just think that not enough has been done to mitigate the risk to threatened indigenous species (specifically the long-tailed bat). Naturally, the wind farm developers, who have to pay for the mitigation measures, believe otherwise.
There is no doubt that both parties are doing what they think is best for New Zealand as a whole, and the only real difference is the level of risk mitigation that both parties are comfortable with. This leads to the sticky ethical question of what is the value of a bat? If you can invest an extra $5,000 to reduce the likely impact by 10% then most would argue this is reasonable to do. But what if the number is $50,000, or $500,000? Where do you draw the line? There is no straightforward answer.
And while we’re talking about difficult questions: How do you stop a tiny bat from flying into a wind turbine anyway?
In more rigorous opposition are some of the residents of the Hauraki region in which this new development will be built. They believe that the wind farm will be an eyesore, and therefore oppose it in any form. Based on the split of submissions received (57 for the project, and 157 against the project), you might think that most of the locals are in opposition to the project. Well if they are, that’s not very representative of the rest of New Zealand.
A 2008 survey found that 84% of New Zealanders would be fine with a wind farm being visible from their house. Additionally, those in opposition don’t generally stay that way. International surveys have found that opposition to wind farms was almost always strongest prior to construction and once they are actually in use many surrounding residents realise that their fears were unfounded. In one survey 74% of residents described the turbines as graceful.
So, while a “not in my back yard’ attitude may be prevalent in a vocal minority, the majority of New Zealanders appear to be willing to compromise in order to help the journey to a cleaner economy. Which is good, because as we’ve said before, there’s not really a viable alternative…