Windmills are beautiful things, aren’t they – wheels in the sky with tails that keep them headed the right way to garner free energy that pumps equally free water up from places underground.
Wait on. I’m living in the past if I still think that, right?
What I describe is the common sight we came across when Mum and Dad took us to visit farmer rellies, whose ingenuity harnessed the wind to fill cattle troughs.
The windmills seemed big to us kids, but not so enormous as to block views of the countryside. Well, not any more than power poles, which are everywhere, aren’t they.
Despite modern efforts to put power wires underground in new subdivisions, our visual landscapes are dominated by poles and lines.
They’re a damned eyesore when you want to get a shot of the mountain while it’s doing one of its amazing appearance changes. Like recently, when it was hidden in a clinging cloud formation I hadn’t ever seen.
To get a picture of it from our New Plymouth neighbourhood (Lower Vogeltown) that was unencumbered by power paraphernalia I had to go to the Vogeltown Bowling Club at the end of Norman St.
Even then, my shot was spoiled by distant poles and wires, so I had to do some jiggery pokery with Photoshop to make it look natural.
It’s a tricky word is “natural”. It’s surely what former PM John Key had in mind when he took on the tourism portfolio in his governments of more than a decade ago and built our overseas visitor industry into a mega-earner.
When he coined “100% Pure” (or at least used it so effectively) he must surely have had unspoiled views in mind as much as anything else. Our supposedly clear vistas were sold to the world.
Are we about to ditch all that with our plans to put giant windmills in the way of the view of Taranaki Maunga in South Taranaki?
I think we are.
It’s one thing to convince everyone of a new reality that requires a massive switch to renewable, clean means of generating electricity, and another to repeat the despoiling mistakes of the past.
The world began its serious commitment to renewable energy back in the 1970s after the first oil supply crises. But our commitment then to change was half-arsed.
We got into solar panels and windmills but with the same disregard for landscape vistas as the original electrical engineers and power boards.
That mindset has continued. Have you ever stood beside one of the early windmills that tower above one of Wellington’s golf courses and felt the woomph of the blades? Uncomfortable.
What about driving past Palmerston North and looking across at the line of windmills on the skyline of the Ruahines? Awful.
Sensitivity has grown in recent times as Mãori voices against such disrespect have strengthened.
As have alternatives. Like where the windmills should go.
Planting them a few hundred metres off the surf breaks of Taranaki is as equally unacceptable as on farmland near Kapuni. That was signalled by the Government when it ignored a Bell Block firm’s development of power-generating buoys (700 needed off New Plymouth).
We surely wouldn’t welcome windmills in the remote inland hills of East Taranaki, either.
Over the horizon well out to sea where the remnants of the oil platforms exist out of sight and out of mind seems the best idea.
The people who want to build the Kapuni windmills aren’t keen on that because of the cost of getting the power there.
Presumably, while they acknowledge the possibility of transmitting electricity without power lines has been around since Tesla invented it in the late nineteenth century, it’s only now nations are seriously trialling it.
And as we all know, anything newish is expensive. That’s what people decided when Tesla demonstrated his invention, so the world opted for wires. Hence all the power poles ruining our views.
There are also the barriers of bureaucracy and outdated laws and regulation, which mean recent proposals for offshore and out-of-sight wind farms and wireless transmission might be a decade away from realisation.
That’s unacceptable, given the urgency we face – and progress being made – in developing green energy. The Government must get on with it.
But not windmills built on land. Let’s not allow commercial pressure and political tardiness to commit us to another generation of visual vandalism.
Not when we’re this close to a world in which electricity could become truly invisible.
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