Visible and risible
There was a shock horror scoop in the Dominion Post today, with the headline Wind farm 'visible from Island Bay to Waikanae'. A leaked report purports to show that the proposed Puketiro wind farm would be visible from all across the Wellington region, and a spokesperson for a group called "Preserve Pauatahanui" said that "the leaked information shows that all Wellingtonians should be concerned".
Does this mean that the wind farm will be a dominating presence across the region? Hardly. The report by Boffa Miskell actually shows the theoretical visibility plans, and in many cases, that's very theoretical indeed. I presume that the planners have thus far done a viewshed analysis based on a Digital Elevation Model, and the result shows those parts of the region with a direct line of sight to the turbines. That doesn't imply that anyone in those locations with normal human eyesight would actually be able to distinguish them at that distance, let alone feel that the modification to the landscape "affects" them in any way.
To put this (literally) in perspective, a 130m-high turbine at Puketiro would be 35km from Island Bay, and a bit of high school trig will tell you that it will subtend about one fifth of an angular degree. That's about half an eyelash held at arm's length. Even with some motion to catch the eye and 50 of them along the ridge, you'd really have to go out of your way to see them, and that's assuming good visibility and no low cloud. Somehow, I don't think the residents of Island Bay will have to worry about the threat to their property values.
On top of all the hyperbole, it's all based on the assumption that wind farms are a blot on the landscape in the first place. Diane Strugnell of Preserve Pauatahanui makes the extraordinary claim that "People are realising that if it goes ahead then they will never see the hills the way they are supposed to be seen". "Supposed"?! Where does this teleological interpretation of landscape come from? Were the hills put there for the aesthetic delectation of human beings? And if so, wouldn't we be "supposed" to see them covered in native forest, rather than the highly modified landscape of exotic forest, grazing lands, fences and roads that characterises the area? Battle Hill Regional Park certainly has historic value, but it's hardly virgin wilderness.
In any case, I believe we should celebrate the dynamic beauty of the turbines as well as welcoming them as a source of sustainable energy. Build them on Mt Kaukau and along Mt Victoria, so we can proudly point to them and say "that's powering our public transport, and making Wellington a net exporter of energy". Which would you rather see: wind turbines turning on the hillside, or a future dependent on a dwindling supply of fossil fuel?