Episode 28: Sniff the Breeze
On the next episode screening 23 August 2014 at 7pm on TV ONE
Sniff the Breeze
Gavin Bruce has to check for traffic when he's out mustering on his farm these days - he says riding around some parts of his 370 hectare property is like driving on State Highway One.
After years of battling Wellington's gales, Gavin and his three neighbours decided to turn the region's most notorious feature to their advantage and put up wind turbines.
Over the last two years, four farms in Ohariu Valley, close to the capital city, have undergone big changes as power company contractors prepared the ground for wind turbines.
More than 1300 workers have been on the farms over the two years the project has been running. Gavin says sharing his property with people and traffic has taken some adjusting, but he sees it as a short term inconvenience in return for the long term security that the wind farm provides. "It's a big jump up, equivalent to lifting stock numbers from 4000 to 6000."
Gavin says the idea for a wind farm came from a local lifestyle block owner who suggested the new venture almost 20 years ago.
Gavin knows all about the Wellington wind. He grew up in the Ohariu Valley, a small rural settlement 20 minutes west of the city, and farms a hilly sheep and beef farm that looks out over Cook Strait and the South Island.
On good days, Gavin says the view is hard to beat, but more often than not he and his farming neighbours are battling the winds that regularly lash their coastal blocks, with stock work often being done in a Wellington "buster". Gavin reckons you'd end up staying home if you waited for the wind to stop.
When the idea of a wind farm was first suggested, Ohariu Valley farmers had been through a string of droughts and were looking for ways of adding security to their farming income.
Some had already started diversifying-neighbour Greg Best, for example, had started offering corporate retreats and a wedding venue and another farmer, Ward Kellahan, runs horse trekking and saddlery.
Many of the farming families that remain in the valley have historical ties to the area. Gavin's grandfather settled in the valley in the 1900s and others, like Warren Bryant and Greg Best, have links that go back to early European settlement.
All of them saw wind farming, with its promise of long term rental agreements and new roads, as a way of securing their future.
Four farmers - Gavin Bruce, Greg Best, Warren Bryant and Ward Kellahan - decided to ask power companies for proposals to build a wind farm on their land. By 2000, they had selected Meridian Energy's plan to install 26 turbines.
What the farmers didn't anticipate was resistance from the local community. It took another 12 years for the project to get a green light. "We never thought it would be such a drawn out affair," says Gavin. "It took people a long while to get their heads around it."
In 2012, contractors started cutting roads - 18 kilometres were needed to put the turbines in place.
Gavin says nothing could have prepared the four farmers for the impact the construction work has had with stock yards and fences having to be uprooted. On the positive side, the work has created a high-quality network of roads which will make it easier to farm in the longer term.
Once the wind farm is fully operational, Meridian Energy says the 26 turbines will power around 30,000 Wellington homes.
To find out more about the Mill Creek Wind Farm, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mill_Creek_Wind_Farm
For historical information on the area, visit: www.wcl.govt.nz/heritage/ohariu
For information about Greg Best's corporate retreat and wedding venue, visit: www.ohariufarm.co.nz
For more on horse trekking on Ward Kellahan's property, visit: www.horsetrekking.co.nz
Post Production Manager