Wind farm effects were underestimated

NOISY?: Scenic Palmerston North
NOISY?: Scenic Palmerston North

A Manawatu wind farm is facing court action amid lingering doubt it is complying with noise limits.

After receiving hundreds of complaints about noise from Te Rere Hau wind farm on the Tararua Range for more than a year, Palmerston North City Council has applied to the Environment Court for stricter rules and better sound monitoring.

On average, the council receives one complaint a day.

Neighbours of the wind farm near Palmerston North have consistently complained about "whining mechanical noise", "droning", "loud humming", "grinding and swishing" and likened the sound to a "roaring train that never arrives".

The owner of the farm, New Zealand Windfarms, continues to argue it is complying with its resource consents.

Chief executive Chris Sadler declined to comment because legal proceedings were underway, but said his company would respect the process and participate fully in it.

For months the council has maintained there is reasonable doubt about the farm's consent compliance and the application to the court calls for greater notice to be taken of the actual experience of nearby residents.

According to NZ Windfarms' consent application, many residents were supposed to experience "nil noise effects" from the two-bladed turbines. The council argues that not only do residents hear wind farm noise, they hear tonal noise – considered the most irritating for humans because of its pure pitch.

The council wants the court to impose a five-decibel penalty for tonal noise.

If the penalty is imposed, NZ Windfarms will have to do something to run a quieter wind farm. That could include making technical improvements or switching some turbines off in particular wind conditions.

Noise consultants for NZ Windfarms have argued a tonal penalty should not apply.

Twenty residents have filed affidavits with the Environment Court and a hearing is likely to be held next year.

Ridgeview Rd resident Clel Wallace was pleased to see NZ Windfarms being brought to account. "It's about time this action was taken."

Mr Wallace said he would sometimes hear a low rumble, "swish, swish, swish" or high-pitched whine.

The noise was worse for many of his neighbours, he said.

NZ Windfarms has previously been dismissive of public concern about wind farm noise.

Former chief executive Steve Cross told the Manawatu Standard in May that the company did not need to be accountable to the public or the media.

However, the total number of complaints from about 20 households near the farm has climbed to more than 500.

The council is arguing NZ Windfarms underestimated the effects of wind farm noise on the amenity of the area.

Earlier this year, NZ Windfarms obtained a resource consent to extend the wind farm by 56 turbines, although the total number is unlikely to exceed 97 in the medium term.

Manawatu Standard