Wellington Scoop

Makara and the Meridian “noise torture”

by Lindsay Shelton
Meridian Energy, which claims to support the communities where it generates electricity, is facing attack from the Makara community on the subject of noise from its West Wind windfarm. It’s a subject which refuses to go away.

Makara residents have been stating their concerns about the windfarm for years, because it’s close to their houses. And now that 40 of the 62 turbines have been completed and brought into use, their fears are becoming their reality.

“It’s been horrific, it’s noise torture,” a Makara resident told the Dominion Post at the weekend. Another resident told the paper that Meridian’s 0800 helpline (which received 20 complaints last week) was “so arrogant.”

Earlier this year, Wellington.Scoop attracted a record number of readers for articles about the concerns of Makara residents. On April 27, Makara resident Jenny Jorgensen told us it was outrageous that turbines were being built so close to homes.

In the same month, we described why the issue of noise was causing anxiety. Makara residents, accustomed to a settlement where peace and quiet is constant, were having to learn about the concepts of propeller noise and turbine noise at different speeds. And after 18 months of negotiations, they were unable to reach agreement with Meridian on measuring noise levels.

In March, photos by Jim Mikoz showed the size of the gigantic turbines which are now causing unhappiness for the people of Makara.

Meridian’s West Wind website refers to economic benefits from wind farms, and states in one of two newsletters that Meridian (“the country’s largest renewable electricity generator and 100 per cent New Zealand owned”) has a strong reputation for supporting the communities where it generates electricity. The subject of noise, however, doesn’t get a mention.


  1. Paul, 27. July 2009, 8:07

    I visited a resident of Makara recently — his only real objection is the perceived effect on property prices. Objecting to the noise of the turbines sounds better than complaining about monetary issues.

  2. Rosamund Averton, 27. July 2009, 8:24

    As a regular walker along our skyline in all directions from Makara to KauKau including Te Wharangi, I have been surprised that the flocks of birds that used to roost on the pylons have disappeared. Is this the result of the erection of the “buzzing” of 40 (soon to be 60+) West Wind wind turbines standing as sentries and interrupting views south?

    Perhaps some sturdy trees could be planted (by Meridian) near each turbine to absorb some of the noise and vibration.

    Has anyone scientifically measured any effects these turbines are having on both human residents, wildlife and livestock? There is not much we can do with West Wind but surely any evidence will prove useful for the Long Gully and Mill Creek submitters.

  3. sympathetic, 27. July 2009, 22:13

    I feel very sorry for the local residents. This is really a human rights issue, brushed under the carpet by successive governments struggling to achieve very difficult climate change ambitions without overly compromising either those macroeconomic goals connected with building more and more plant or NZ’s international reputation as a nuclear-free, clean green nation.

  4. BDB, 29. July 2009, 9:50

    My neighbors do not have to feel they have to ‘take one’ for the image of NZ. Our clean green environmental PR image is not helped by the ‘environmental terrorists’ media releases. As a country, if we are contributing 0.2% of global emissions (half from agriculture), taking on the rest of the developed world’s burden is unfair.
    To purchase and place old technology that allows Meridian to get carbon credits to trade in a scheme – that is not priceless.
    That is shameful -when residents are also made to feel like they do not care enough for the environment.
    To live up to an image we perceive ourselves to have…that will take some changes.But this was not the way. Getting a reality check away from media disinformation (the PR spins) is always helpful.

  5. Gill Duncan, 4. August 2009, 20:42

    Taihape residents are still receiving promises from Meridian but the house of cards is quietly falling. Beginning with their claims of “efficiency”, their truescape images which are obviously cooked and blantantly misleading. However people do not realise they’ve been duped very often until after the submission period is closed. And now the noise levels (standards which are being set by Meridian employees) are proving to be unlivable. The subterfuge is being exposed, but will it be in time to save “The Gentle Annie Road” linking Taihape to the Hawkes Bay. This beautiful wilderness area is in danger of first 52 135m turbines, (Meridian), but Mighty River is lining up for another 100 nearer Mt Aorangi on the same incredibly scenic sub-alpine route. Landscape holds NZ’s real grounds for our clean, green image.

  6. Nicki, 4. August 2009, 21:42

    My deepest sympathies to Makara residents. Interesting comment about property values. Evidence given by a Property Consultant for Meridian at Project Central Wind’s hearing, stated that “there was no discernable deflection in property values as a result of Project West Wind.” That was before they turned the turbines on !!!.
    Meridian has been given consent to erect 52, 135 metre high turbines south east of Mt Ruapehu, situated on the Hihitahi Plateau. To view Mt Ruapehu through 52 turbines, will be a huge embarrassment to all NZ’ers and tourists alike.
    Please visit http://www.disturbines.org.nz and help us appeal this decision.
    Meridian told us that no one at Makara was complaining.

  7. Maddy, 5. August 2009, 11:05

    In the decision to grant consent to Meridian’s Project Central Wind, near Taihape, Meridian’s environmental noise expert is reported as saying that the major risk associated with a development such as this is anxiety caused through ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘misinformation’ which has the effect of sensitising some individuals. He claimed there was no evidence to support existence of any physical risk to neighbours.’ (Page 21 para 9.1.11)

    What the decision didn’t report was his verbal victim blaming comment that such people are “psychotic”. As he appeared to be asleep through much of the time he was present at the hearing it doesn’t surprise me that his review of the science failed to find the increasing documentation on the negative effects on people and animals of constant noise, such as that of wind turbines. Low frequency and infrasound effects in particular have been studied for 27 years. Check out: http://www.windaction.org/?module=uploads&func=download&fileId=1396 for the science on this aspect of noise pollution.

    The World Health Organisation is unequivocal on community noise pollution. http://www.who.int/docstore/peh/noise/Commnoise4.htm
    “people should have the right to decide for themselves the quality of the acoustical environment they live in.” Further, “Some populations may be at greater risk for the harmful effects of noise. Young children (especially during language acquisition), the blind, and perhaps fetuses are examples of such populations.”

    And further “Electrophysiological and behavioral methods have demonstrated that both continuous and intermittent noise indoors lead to sleep disturbance… Measurable effects on sleep start at background noise levels of about 30 dB LAeq. Physiological effects include changes in the pattern of sleep stages, especially a reduction in the proportion of REM sleep….Sensitive groups mainly include elderly persons, shift workers and persons with physical or mental disorders.”

    But wait, there’s more: “When the noise is composed of a large proportion of low-frequency sounds a still lower guideline value is recommended.” Makara people and we in Taihape are expected to live with 40 dBA, approximately three times the WHO guidelines. And what’s more that is still legal in New Zealand!

    The Wind industry frequently quote that the noise from a wind turbine is no higher than that of a domestic fridge, but we don’t sleep with a fridge under our bed, or with a fridge beside our desk at school. Nor does the fridge follow us around all day everyday, and everywhere we go, inside and out.

    Meridian refuses to conduct adequate pre-construction noise monitoring over every season and a range of times during the day, so that baseline noise is known. You can understand why not, particularly when in the hearing decision for Central Wind they acknowledge that profit, not the national interest, is driving this project.

  8. Jennifer Hutson, 6. August 2009, 18:00

    These comments are precisely why we who are threatened by these industrial giants are complaining. A lot is made of NIMBYism. Yes I am a NIMBY and very proud of it. In laying down the gauntlet to the Greater Wellington Regional Council and its preferred developer RES (NZ), part of the Macalpine group of companies on the UK. in developing a “windfarm” plan for the Puketiro and Akatarawa Forest Parkland, we are demanding a 3km at least distance from any home to a turbine.

    The noise limits set by the noise regulations do not take account that there is usually no noise/sound in our rural valleys. Why do we have to put up with introduced noise of any sort?. We all recognise the sound of aeroplane or a truck or a chainsaw etc but it is intermittent and certainly does not go all night as well as all day.

    Meridian has been caught out in Makara and is still telling he same untruths in the Taihape region. Makara people were adamant that they did not want any introduced sound nuisance to their area.
    Meridian staff are no doubt being paid large salaries to tell porkies. I wonder if any of them would like to live near their installations. Perhaps if they are so convinced they might like to buy one of the properties nearby.

  9. Maddy, 7. August 2009, 10:51

    Rosamund asked about the effects of turbines on animals.

    Meridian’s avifauna experts for the Taihape wind farm have ascertained that up to 30% of the flights of our internationally listed and nationally vulnerable native falcons, will be within the rotor arcs of the 156 x 7 tonne blades of the 52 turbines. The flock here is small enough that there may be not one left alive by the time the first report on the impact of the turbines on falcons is released, a year or more after commissioning.

    Two endangered species of bats – our only native mammals – live and hunt in the area of the Taihape project. This again was established by Meridian’s avifauna experts. Worldwide, bats are frequently found dead at the base of turbines with no apparent injuries. Investigations reported by the University of Calgary in Canada just last August have determined that the bats delicate lungs blow up and explode if they are breathing in when passing a turbine, due to a rapid change in barometric pressure. These wonderful creatures, which help the ecosystem by eating insect pests, die horribly from drowning in their own blood.

    What sort of society is New Zealand becoming when we can put our iconic species at such risk to enable Meridian to make a profit and the government to rake off the dividend?

    They are avoiding the obvious solution which is to encourage home generation of electricity by solar, micro-wind or micro-hydro, and hot water from solar collectors; and to initiate a guaranteed buy back system of excess electricity, to feed into the national grid. This happens in Australia, Canada and 38 other countries. One million people in Canada opted into this truly green and renewable electricity generation project in its first twelve months of operation.

    Guaranteed buy back encourages banks overseas to give householders low interest loans to get into home generation. But there is a woeful shortage of tradesmen to do such installations at present in New Zealand, and as a result installation costs are exorbitant, despite a limited subsidy.

    A buy back scheme could also harness youth unemployment, through the
    training of installers of solar panels and solar hot water heaters, thus killing two birds (which aren’t endangered species) with one stone. According to the government agency, EECA, using electrically powered hot water cylindars to keep 40 gallons or more of water hot all day contributes 50 – 75% of domestic power usage. Guess who benefits from not discouraging this archaic approach?

    We generate our own power from solar – have done for fifteen years. See http://www.disturbines.org.nz/
    for further details on home power generation.

    Let’s stop the need to further destroy our countryside and our iconic species with visual and noise polluting industrial wind farms.

  10. Rosamund Averton, 16. August 2009, 9:23

    Since my last message 12 new turbines have been erected to the south of Makara.

    The original plan for Long Gully was for a small number of short turbines. I have recently learnt that the present application is for more than 20 of these sentinels which will seem to overlap, because of the topography of the Southern Coast sites.

    Is there anything that can be done to halt this significant intrusion into our views?

    I do support tidal energy in the Cook Strait. Has the present Government Minister/Ministry thoroughly explored this option which would certainly contribute to our need to become “sustainable”.

  11. Dave T, 18. August 2009, 21:10

    For the ill-informed:
    As New Zealand does not generate much of its power from coal or diesel this is not an emissions issue! This is a sustainability issue. We have a growing population, that is increasingly urbanised in the North Island. How would these NIMBYs have New Zealand generate it’s power? Nuclear power, more daming of rivers at the wrong end of the country ( someone elses backyard) ? Wind is a beautiful solution, which benefits thousand at the arguable disturbance of a few. They complained before, they were always going to complain after, regardless of the actual noise pollution.

  12. Dave T, 18. August 2009, 21:27

    Maddy, firstly falcons do not flock! They are birds of prey for chrissakes. Secondly, and contrary to popular belief these birds are not stupid, and will avoid unusual and scary objects inately. Thirdly, falcons are probably the most supreme avian exponents of flight we have in New Zealand and will be more than capable of avoiding the turbines in the unlikely event that they get close enough to them. I’ll have to take your word on the bats, though I would have thought that their inparalled sonar senses would ensure they kept a wide berth of such ‘noisy’ and threatening devices. Agree with you on the self-generation, solar, and energy efficiency stuff though.

  13. Chaz, 19. August 2009, 12:00

    To Dave T – a large proportion of the North Island’s power is generated from gas. As wind power is generally so feeble and unreliable, further backup power plants have to be built – a rough rule of thumb is that every 1MW of wind power requires about 0.8-0.9 MW of backup. These power plants have to be kept spinning all the time regardless of whether they are actually generating power or not. Hence, the myth of wind power being clean and green is just that – a myth.

    New Zealand has the highest per capita electricity consumption of any country on earth, and for one very simple reason which has its origins way back in the middle of last century – we use it to keep 200 million litres of water hot 24 hours a day.

    Burning gas to make electricity to heat up water hundreds of miles away uses nearly three times as much gas as if it were used directly to heat the water.

    Had successive governments had more sense, or perhaps better advice, our precious irreplaceable Maui gasfield would still have centuries of life left instead of being nearly depleted within a brief 30-odd years.

    Nuclear power is not the only alternative. The wind might not often blow, but the sun always comes up in the morning. A simple act of parliament, as has been done in many other countries, would see a much greater uptake in domestic solar power generation.

    But will the government seriously make any of these simple changes to our badly managed energy industry? I doubt it – electricity is the government’s cash cow. Why else are they encouraging us to use as much of it as we possibly can?

  14. Chaz, 19. August 2009, 14:34

    To Dave T – I think you have misinterpreted Maddys use of the word ‘flock’, which simply denotes a number of animals, birds, or fish considered collectively. In this case the entire ‘flock’ of native falcons is believed to comprise only 4 or 5 breeding pairs, according to a study undertaken by DOC. It was DOC who also said that the falcons flight paths can be expected to take them into the path of the rotor arms 30% of the time! (Meridian, of course, turned it around and said that 70% of the time the falcons flight paths would not be within the rotor arcs -they are experts of spin in more ways than one!) Although the turbines appear to be rotating at a very leisurely rate, this is deceptive. Whilst the falcon may be aware of one rotor arm moving away into the distance, it has no way of knowing about, much less avoiding the next 7-ton lump of metal approaching from behind at close to 300 km/h – considerably more than a third of the speed of sound (for chrissakes)

  15. Chaz, 20. August 2009, 10:43

    Errata – in my last post I made two mistakes.
    1/. It was Meridian’s own avifauna experts who conducted the survey, not DOC.
    2/. More than a third the speed of sound should have read ‘more than a quarter of the speed of sound’.
    My apologies.

  16. W_G, 26. October 2009, 21:03

    Go right ahead and erect more wind turbines,
    encourage people to use more power by installing heat pumps,
    fix damp houses by installing dvs units,
    let little shits drive cars with bug exhausts
    and we can’t possibly limit “doff doff” thumping stereos……..

    Never mind the people who would like to sleep – they don’t count, they just pay their taxes and their rates and trust governments/councils to do the right thing. Foolish aren’t they?