Wellington Scoop

The gigantic wind turbines which are rapidly changing the face of Makara

Photos by Jim Mikoz

As more of the gigantic towers are erected on the hills above the Makara coast, it’s becoming possible to see how the area is being changed forever by Meridian Energy’s West Wind project.

Including the rotor blades, each of 62 turbines will be 111 metres high, taller than the State Insurance Building in central Wellington.

Marine environmentalist Jim Mikoz took these photographs of components of one of the wind turbines, which was waiting to be erected above Makara beach.

“This turbine overlooks Makara beach but you will soon be able to take a bearing on it from almost anywhere including Porirua,” he says.

Barges are being used to bring the wind turbines across Cook Strait from Shakespeare Bay next to Picton Harbour to a temporary wharf at Makara’s Oteranga Bay.

The elements of each wind turbine (which have been supplied by the Danish company Siemens) are a 67 metre tower in two sections, a nacelle housing the generator, and three blades which are each 40 metres long.

All 62 octagonal foundations have already been completed, with extra strengthening on the windiest sites. And 42 kilometres of roads have been built on the hills so that the materials can be driven up to the foundations.

Jim Mikoz, who is president of the Wellington Recreational Marine Fishers’ Association, has serious concerns about sediment from the construction.

“Silt coming off the hills has settled in Te Ikamaru Bay and is being lifted with the sea,” he says. “The sediment traps have major design faults because the mud is directed into the sea.”

Among the opponents of West Wind were the Makara Guardians, who provided specifics of their concern in a statement 18 months ago.

The Quartz Hill Reserve Charitable Trust was another group which opposed the project. In 2005 it said the proposal “has been bulldozed through despite the concerns of local residents.”

As part of the resource consent for West Wind, Meridian was required to set up a community liaison group and a recreation group. Community members of the liaison group are Deb Compton, Dave Bennett and Ruth Paul. There are ten members on the recreation group which exists to “plan and develop recreation and visitor opportunities for the windfarm site.”

Meridian says its Makara wind farm will generate enough energy for 70,000 households. Construction will be completed by the end of the year. The project is Meridian’s third wind farm. Te Apiti north of the Manawatu Gorge was completed in 2004 and White Hill in Southland in 2007.

Meridian’s fourth wind farm project, also in Wellington, received resource consent in February. It’s Mill Creek, which will have 29 turbines, the same size and height as the ones now being completed on the hills above Makara.

And where’s the location of the Mill Creek wind farm? It’s to be built in the Ohariu Valley, even closer to the residents of Makara than West Wind.

And there’s more in store for Wellington. Soon to be on the horizon, as it were, is the Long Gully wind farm planned by Mighty River. Its location: the hills behind the Brooklyn turbine.

Read also: Meridian funding school education programmes

Read also: an article from the Guardian – conflicting UK views about wind farms


  1. Rosamund Averton, 23. March 2009, 13:16

    There are now seven turbines intruding into our view of the South Island, with the promise of many more judging by the light-reflecting concrete pads that can be seen from the Skyline to Wrights Hill and beyond to Hawkins Hill Road. Soon there will be no views to the South Island without intrusions.

  2. Spratt, 23. March 2009, 14:32

    You could always suggest to Meridian that you would prefer a nuclear power station instead of the 62 wind turbines – that is the alternative to the growing demand for power. Or perhaps you could ask the Wellington CBD to turn off all their office building lights after work hours, and maybe even get the Council to turn off every second street light? Unless there is a reduction in power use there needs to be some way of generating it and at least the use of wind power is somewhat environmentally friendly.

  3. Jenny Jorgensen, 23. March 2009, 16:50

    In answer to Spratt: The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in his report ”Wind power people and place” has recommended to government that the way forward for wind power in New Zealand is for dispersed clusters of smaller turbines. In this way the significant adverse environmental effects that the Environment Court found will be created by West Wind will not be repeated. Trying to stifle debate on the merits of wind power by the “threat” of only a nuclear alternative is a common ploy used by the wind power industry: It is designed to frighten the public and perpetuate the myth that wind power per se is environmentally friendly. Large wind power stations on New Zealand’s nationally important coasts, or close to homes, are an unnecessary and noisy blight on the land.

  4. Mark2c, 23. March 2009, 21:09

    How do many small clusters of turbines of turbines create less environmental impact than a large one with the same overall capacity? I would have thought it would be more, given the greater number of people effected (ie neibours). If we install less capacity how do we deal with the shortfall. Coal? Conservation and efficiency are important parts of the solution, but they cant do it all. Rolling blackouts? What alternative do you propose Jenny?

  5. Diane, 23. March 2009, 23:31

    What is often not mentioned when you talk about “shortfalls” such as this is that wind generation always has to have back up generation for when the wind isn’t blowing, or when the turbines have to be shut down if it is too windy – and this back-up is usually gas-fired which is running on standby as it needs to be able to come “online” quickly. How can we expect to run our industry, schools and homes on an energy form that is intermittent and unreliable – over the past 3 winters wind generation provided less that 1% of its installed capacity at peak times (Kieran Devine, Manager of System Operations, Transpower quoted in Taranaki News 11 June 2008) – so when it was most needed it wasn’t there!!. Wind farms don’t make sense on any front – their impact on local communities, economically or environmentally.

  6. James7r, 24. March 2009, 4:24

    A cluster of a larger number of smaller turbines can have less impact because:
    (a) smaller turbines can be sited closer together, and may not need more land to provide the same capacity;
    (b) less substantial infrastructure is needed to install smaller and lighter turbines – smaller roads, cranes, wharfs, concrete pads etc; and
    (c) smaller turbines are less obtrusive in operation – less visible, and quieter.

  7. Chris Burton, 24. March 2009, 4:25

    That is the downside of wind – big ugly towers. But I still love green, renewable energy. Build more turbines! At least I don’t have to look at them. But seriously, I live next to a 20 mile long military base (Camp Pendleton) in California, and I would love to see some turbines on the hills on the base. Even though the land is pristine now, we need the green energy!

  8. John Third, 24. March 2009, 9:14

    Before people start singing the environmental praises of wind, I suggest they Google Gail Mair’s wind farm diary or more recently Yvonne Sheehan’s wind farm diary. Yvonne was nearly 4 km from just 11 Siemens 2.3 Mw turbines the same as the 60 being built at Makara.
    People are more important.

  9. Graeme Kirkcaldie, 24. March 2009, 11:49

    It’s too late! Wellington’s wonderful ‘K’ surface, providing a stunning verdant foreground to Cook Strait when viewed from the Karori hills, is being visually mashed by hard edged mechanical behemoths. Next it will be Ohariu Valley’s turn, and soon Belmont, then Puahatanui, then Kapiti, and then….? Must be ‘fun’ for the residents of Makara and South Makara living in amongst these flickering tormentors. And all of this in the interests of sustaining energy supplies to an irresponsible community which already wastes far too much electricity – as observed by correspondent Spratt who has spotted the CBD wastage and unnecessary street lighting. But you can add to that enormous household and institutional power wastage and begin to surmise that this whole energy ‘shortage’ issue is completely fallacious. It’s simply a management issue, not a resource issue.

  10. Bob Kay, Lower Hutt, 24. March 2009, 12:49

    Wind power is unreliable because the wind doesn’t blow at a constant speed. It has to be backed up with stand-by conventional generating capacity. Wind turbines produce piddling amounts of jaw-droppingly expensive electricity, require large collection areas and long transmission lines to end consumers.
    Why are we wasting huge sums to subsidise uneconomic wind farms when one conventional power station could replace them all at a fraction of the cost?

  11. Mark2c, 24. March 2009, 12:55

    Wind is unreliable, but NZ is short of fuel, not generation capacity. Wind is supported by hydro – not thermal generation which is too slow in its response. When the wind blows less water is used. When the wind stops more water goes through the hydros. Bob: the wind farms are not ‘jaw droppingly expensive’ – their economics stack up without subsidies or incentives. Tens to hundreds of MW are not ‘piddling’ – unless you are advocating big base load coal or Nukes.

  12. Chris Lawrence, 24. March 2009, 13:04

    West Wind, the big problem with this is project management. Resource Consent was approved on the grounds that all activities be within the law. As a Makara resident this is not what I have seen and if you don`t tell them it is ignored and brushed aside with the usual, there is bound to be some disruptions. They do what they want with little or no consideration for the residents. Thanks Jim for the photos.

  13. Keen Diver, 24. March 2009, 15:40

    Next time it rains, have a look at the streams and rivers in Makara coming out of the Westwind site, they will be the colour of liquid clay. If you are flying in or out of Wellington after rain, have a look at the coast, the sea all around the Westwind project wll be clay coloured. What is this doing to the fresh water and coastal ecology? Whatever has been done to stop the dirt from 42km of roads and 62 foundation excavations from finding its way into the streams, rivers and sea is not working. Meridian know about the problem, the Council knows about the problem, however next time it rains, check it out for yourself. Environmentally friendly project? Yeah right!

  14. Guardian1, 24. March 2009, 15:58

    Contrary to Meridian’s latest advertising campaign (being aired in Wellington) where it asserts that wind power has a miniscule carbon footprint compared with other forms of generation, implying wind power generation has a miniscule adverse impact on the environment. It omits to say that the actual significant adverse environmental footprint for schemes such as West Wind are vast! The Environment Court has found that ‘West Wind’ will result in significant adverse environmental effects, it was not just the Makara community saying this would happen.

  15. Cynic, 24. March 2009, 19:12

    Yet again this arrogant juggernaut we have created called the electric power development industry, destroys people and the environment to feed our insatiable demand for electricity, all with the sanction of the Environment Court which should now be called the National Development Court. Add it to the list of destruction: Lake Monowai, Lake Hawea, Aratiatia Rapids. Wairakei geothermal area, Clutha Gorge, Desert Road, stripped shoreline of Lake Manapouri etc. Ironically the developer of West Wind recently sold a mega block of totally renewable electricity to the foreign owned Tiwai Point aluminium smelter which we could have used 24 hours a day instead – so its the old story – we have to make the sacrifices and the foreigners with the dosh get the favoured treatment from the politicians that are supposed to serve us and the Court that has no wish to protect any of the natural character of our NZ coast.

  16. Mark2c, 24. March 2009, 20:32

    Interesting stuff people, but did Meridian ever say that there would be no adverse effects or that no silt would be discharged? These projects don’t cause no effects – same as living at Makara is not a zero foot print exercise – count the number of unofficial rubbish dumps in the Makara steam bed. The amount of silt is likely to be less than that which occurs in a flood and is short term. Certainly less than when the native bush was burnt off to make way for your farms and houses. Can’t you try to be a bit positive – they are there now so get over it.

  17. Keen Diver, 25. March 2009, 14:39

    In response to MarkC above, here is a quote from Meridian regarding Westwind: “Meridian can unequivocally state there will be no significant damage to the coastal intertidal or estuarine environment from any wind development it carries out in the south coast Wellington area, either during construction or long term operation.” – letter to editor of fishing magazine “Coast to Coast” from NZ Wind Development Manager of Meridian Energy.

    Not sure if I can agree with the sentiment that it’s OK to do more damage to the rivers and coast because we have done it before, but we all have our own points of view. To me, allowing tonnes of sediment to flow into one of Wellingtons only coastal estuaries is significant damage, as is the layer of silt that now lies over rocks, plants and seabed visible to anyone diving the Makara coast.

  18. Andrew E, 26. March 2009, 10:40

    Mark2c makes a very good point – this land should be covered in trees, not bare hills shivering in the southerly winds. The environmental damage to this area was done long ago. Along with the trees went the top soil so in any storm – regardless of the roads that have been built, the clay will still be washed into the streams and then the sea. Even deserts are more interesting than the Makara Hills – at least there being put to some good now.

  19. Bob Kay, Lower Hutt, 26. March 2009, 12:34

    In reply to Mark2c: Estimates of cost per kWh of electricity from wind is based on vague assumptions and guesses that may or may not be correct. Actual cost per kWh depends on the amount of electricity actually produced. Wind speed varies and wind speed is a critical factor in determining the amount and actual cost of the electricity generated.
    The cost of electricity produced by wind farms must also include the cost of having a back-up generator continually running on spinning stand-by – since the grid must be kept in balance at all times (supply and demand, frequency, voltage). This means investing in alternative generating capacity to provide the backup service.
    The amount of backup capacity has to equal the peak capacity of the wind farm. That is, when the wind stops blowing or wind conditions exceed the cut-out speed of the turbines, the entire output of the wind farm is lost and needs to be replaced by conventional generation.
    A healthy electricity supply has a reserve of about 15%. This allows for power stations to shut down for maintenance and for unexpected failures.

  20. Mark2c, 26. March 2009, 13:37

    Bob, thanks for clarification. Business cases are always based on best guesses of forward price – but the case must have stacked up. Contingency reserve and spinning standby were required long before wind farms and we already have all this reserve now (none needs to be built) so this tack is debunked. Surely, if in your own words wind is ‘piddling amounts’ of generation only ‘piddling amounts’ of reserve would be required?

  21. Jenny Jorgensen, 26. March 2009, 16:08

    In reply to Andrew E: Contrary to your view, the Environment Court found that the area has outstanding natural landscape and that the coastal environment (and that included most of Terawhiti’s hills and Quartz Hill) was of national importance. In the 1970’s (when it was generally pastoral land) the whole area was found to have the criteria required for, and was proposed as the Regional Council’s first choice for a new regional park . This recommendation did not proceed through lack of funds and political issues. Belmont was then created by the Regional Council as a regional park, as its second choice. Like many others Andrew, you were probably denied access to this great land by Meridian Energy, so you are unaware of the magnificent views, the unique landform of Quartz Hill and and the once rugged landscape.

  22. Bob Kay, Lower Hutt, 26. March 2009, 16:57

    In reply to Mark2c: Only the wind farm owners have the numbers approaching cost accounting quality and they treat them as confidential.
    It’s hard to see how wind farms can give a reasonable rate of return on the money invested. For example, electricity from wind turbines generally makes inefficient use of the transmission capacity that connects the the turbines to the grid. Enough capacity must always be available to handle the peak output of a wind farm. However, that peak output is unlikely to occur more than about 30% of the time.
    Overseas, the full costs of electricity from wind farms are dwarfed by the tax breaks and other government subsidies they receive.
    Here in New Zealand, unless the full costs have been clearly identified and fully assigned to the wind farm, it’s more than likely they are being recovered from all electricity supplied to customers. Retail electricity prices are rising at an alarming rate. So much for cheap electricity from wind farms!!

  23. Chris Horne, 26. March 2009, 18:21

    The resource consent process for Meridian Energy’s West Wind project was flawed from the start, when two city councillors were appointed commissioners for the hearings, one of them as chair. Both councillors were pro-windpower, and pro-development, no matter the adverse social and environmental impacts. They could not be considered “independent commissioners”. The panel of four, two of them “independent”, granted consent.

    Counsel for Meridian was instructed to say at the resource consent hearing, and at the appeal before the Environment Court, that the project was “indivisible”. In other words, the SOE had to get the 210MW project (70 3MW turbines) approved, or the project would not proceed. In the event, Meridian settled for a 142.6MW project, i.e. 62 turbines of 2.3MW capacity. Clearly, Meridian Energy, a State-Owned Enterprise, cannot be trusted.

    The result of the commissioners, and the court, granting consent for the project is widespread destruction of part of rural Wellington’s landscape, including the classic peneplain remnant of Quartz Hill/Makara Farm, removal of extensive areas of regenerating native plant communities, gross pollution of streams and the coastal marine area. and elimination of Wellington’s only candidate for a regional park.

    It is defies explanation that although the court said, in para 434: “However, planned modification of the site is extensive. Roads, turbine sites and fill sites will traverse much of the plateau to a level … we find repugnant”, it granted consent. Meridian’s terrible legacy will last forever.

  24. Mark2c, 26. March 2009, 19:33

    Hi Bob, sizing for peak is a problem for the whole grid, not just wind. However when undertaking new building of a site like this (cabling, substation and grid connection) the marginal cost difference of providing the extra capacity for peak is usually surprisingly small.
    Jenny, I lived in the Radio Village for about 3.5 years and had pretty much range of the whole area and walked it extensively. This area has been heavily modified already (bush and wildlife all gone, farming, gold diggings, HVDC, receiving stations, etc). The valley naturally is even more heavily modified… I’m into mountain biking and understand that this type of access is likely to be provided as ammenity value on completion. Yay.
    Chris, the wind farm is not a ‘forever’ thing. If in 20 years the turbines aren’t needed they can be removed and the works would be basically undetectable. Now nuclear – that is a ‘forever’ thing. What a legacy to leave to our children.

  25. Duncan Babbage, 26. March 2009, 20:55

    At least six turbines have appeared in a direct line of sight between our house and the south island. We had no idea we’d be able to see the turbines from where we are. I had always said that if I could see the turbines from my house I’d celebrate the fact that we were using clean renewable energy. Now that I actually find myself in that situation, I stick by what I said. I’m glad we have this option in Wellington. In my view the disadvantages perceived by those who live even closer to the turbines are acceptable costs in my view, when taken in the context of the benefits to the whole Wellington community… The windfarm wasn’t built on a park, let alone a virgin strip of native bush. Farmland is industrial land intended for production.

  26. Peter Johnston, 26. March 2009, 22:26

    When China was building the infrastructure required in Beijing for the Olympic Games, any citizen whose house stood in the way was summarily evicted and their house bulldozed. Seeing footage of this on television, I was grateful at the time that I lived in a country where the law protected the individual against coporate greed, and where rampant abuse of power was prevented. And yet something analogous is happening right now in Makara and, if the evil swine at Meridian get their way, will soon be repeated in Ohariu Valley. People’s lives are being ruined by these abominations, through being subjected to unavoidable visual intrusions and constant, unceasing noise. No concessions, no compensation- tough! suck it in, get used to it.
    I feel ashamed to be living in a country where abuses of this type can be perpetrated by corporates on decent, law-abiding citizens.
    And as for D Babbage – it’s easy to be so smug when (as I’ll bet money is the case) turbines are at a great distance – try living less than 2 kilometres from them, and let’s see if you still feel “glad we have this option”.

  27. Margaret Steele, 27. March 2009, 10:42

    I could write pages about the treatment Makara has been given by Meridian over the past years but it’s all been said so please try to be in my shoes just for a moment.
    You are constantly deprived of sleep because the noise of the jumbojet]
    size blades are forever turning and grinding.
    Your first glance of a beautiful day are 11 windmills turning and flickering
    everywhere you look.
    You have young Parkinson’s desease and cannot tolerate anything continually turning in your vision.
    You are faced with selling a home you have loved and improved upon over the past ten years with financial loss.
    If you have a good imagination maybe you will understand a little better why people who live here cannot “Just get on with it”.

  28. Mark2c, 27. March 2009, 17:14

    Margaret – sorry to hear about your family’s tragedy with young parkinsons disease. Very very hard indeed. But please don’t exagerate so. It is simply not true that the wind turbines (min of 2km away) sound like a ‘jumbo jet’. Same for the flicker – that again is simply not true. It is better to keep it real. Mistruths from either side simply cause compounded pain for all. Please keep the imagination under control.

  29. Duncan Babbage, 27. March 2009, 20:32

    Peter Johnston—my calculations suggest I am about 4.1km from the turbines. Certainly more than your 2km, don’t know what you define as “a great distance”. And just because you’re angry, that doesn’t make me smug.

  30. Barry, 28. March 2009, 17:59

    Why don’t you People get over it. Thay are here now. I’d rather see the wind turbines up to have power than have our rivers damed up.

  31. V, 29. March 2009, 10:14

    The people that have issues with the wind turbines have a right to express their individual opinions -as you just did.

    Options for “clean energy” were never given.
    It was not a choice between “river” and “landscape” .

    Peter please just stop being angry at the injustice Mr Babbage
    does not want to appear “smug”.

    What about the recent Meridian PR advert campaign?
    Small little what? footprints?

  32. Jenny Jorgensen, 31. March 2009, 10:52

    In response to Mark2C. It is fact that the noise from turbines has been likened to jet planes that never land. Just ask Murray Martin of Palmerston North who is kept awake (and he is around 3 km from the TrustPower turbines); he gave evidence at the recent Mill Creek hearings. It is also a fact that a homestead had to be abandoned at Te Apiti because of noise and vibration from turbines. If you need to know the facts, do not rely on the wind energy industry to keep you informed. I am also aware of people who have been prevented from giving evidence about noise because they had to sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for compensation.

  33. Mark2c, 2. April 2009, 16:53

    Jenny please don’t make the ‘fact’ thing worse. Because it ‘has been likened’ doesn’t make it a fact. Noise can be deterministically characterised and the wind farm noise is not at all like a jumbo’s noise. There a people who can live near an airport and people who can’t . The same will occur for windfarms – they are not zero impact. Neither are they a jumbo jet. Certainly quieter than the cars, chainsaws, motorbikes, stereos and wind in the trees that is present in the valley.

  34. Julie Parker, 10. April 2009, 11:06

    We should all be giving wind power a second look, the end of oil crisis is coming soon How To Build A Windmill.

  35. g bruno, 11. April 2009, 12:08

    Wind Turbines do not destroy ‘people and the environment’ they may mar some ‘views’. Bad luck, we need the electricity. Those who debate here and have no fridges, washing machines, driers, air-cons,heaters, please announce yourselves here as ‘electro-purists’. When we are all ‘electro purists’, we will dismantle the turbines, and behold! we will be back to deforested, scrubby, gorse laden, muddy hills, undamaged!
    In the meantime, by all means lets get proximity sensors on all electric lights, so they go dark when no burglars are about.

  36. Andrew Hutson, 5. June 2009, 21:06

    Wind farms make awful neighbours. Don’t wait until they’re built in your back yard to find out. Troll the internet and get first hand experiences. Go talk to the folk in the Manawatu and now Makara. The truth is that turbines are noisy, flickering, visually intrusive and potentially dangerous. Keep them at least 5 km from where people live. Meridian and other developers have been exploiting poor or nonexistent rules with loads of money – ours – to gain consents.
    But why build them? They are very inefficient performing far below their “rated capacity”. Power 76,000 homes? Rubbish. Not a single lightbulb will glow if the wind is not at the optimum level. And you’d need at least 7 Makara sites each year just to meet the demand growth. Where next?

  37. Mark2c, 7. June 2009, 17:39

    Andrew, Makara is likely to be one of the best performing wind sites in the world. Keeping it factual helps everyoune. What do you propose for handling load growth? Nuclear? Coal? Fossil fuels? Hydro? For me renewables combined with consevation and efficient use is the key. Personally I think the wind farms make better neighboars than people with private rubbish dumps adjacent to the Makara Stream.

  38. Jean King, 25. August 2010, 16:52

    Most of the increased energy demand is for dairy production, Irrigation pumps and milk processing – to evaporate off the water and make milk powder for export to convert babies in the east away from healthy breast-feeding. With rivers and groundwater degraded and a huge energy demand to produce and transport a product of questionable benefit makes a joke of the claim that the windfarms are ‘for green energy’ and are all lovely for the planet.