A heart of gold and a $180 million crown of wind turbines — the proposed Kaimai Wind Farm will be visible over a 15km radius from Waihi, Dickeys Flat campground, Paeroa and Te Aroha.
Submissions have now closed with 220 sent to Hauraki District Council — the majority, 157, opposed. Another 143 submissions to Waikato Regional Council had 96 against and 42 in support. Eleven were undecided.
Kaimai Wind Ltd community liaison Clare Bayly says the submissions are the beginning of "a long term investment" and follow 3-4 years of consultation with the community.
"Now people have had the chance to say 'yes, I really like that idea' or 'no, we've got some concerns'," she says.
"We're not coming in to 'do' something to the community. Up until now it was way out in the future, so the RMA process is really democratic as it gives something concrete to focus on."
Twenty-four large-scale wind turbines over 1304 hectares near Rotokohu Rd on the northwestern area of the Kaimai Ranges, 11km from Waihi and 5km south of Paeroa, will be built under the application to HDC.
Seven would be on the ridgeline 180 metres high and 17 maximum height turbines on the lower ridgeline, 207m high.
The $180 million structures require "extensive" earthworks and include a substation, two transmission towers, two overhead power lines and 18km of roading with an on-site quarry to supply material for the proposed roads.
The company says the Kaimai Ranges are unique in the upper North Island with the required wind speed and a Transpower connection point at its southern boundary. Ms Bayly says the footprint has changed from an initial 60 turbines to 24.
"We've been researching this since 2005 and in that time the technology has become a lot more refined and efficient."
However, a further reduction in the number of turbines would bring into question its viability, she said.
The wind farm is proposed on private land, but adjacent to the 6159ha Kaimai-Mamamku Conservation Park that's home to kiwi, short and longtailed bats, hochstettter's frog and two very rare plants, the kirk's daisy and king fern.
The company has noted two wahi tapu (sacred) sites and says neither will be impacted — however, Ngati Hako say this is because the council had not yet completed its process to identify sites.
"We want it turned down on the basis that the area is significant to Maori," says Ngati Hako Kupenga spokeswoman Pauline Clarkin.
"Hauraki District Council was to undergo a process for Maori to identify [sacred] sites as part of the district plan process, and this is still outstanding — so the area is a significant landscape that is awaiting council planning protection."
Ms Clarkin says an independent Maori commissioner on the hearings panel would be one way of ensuring a fair process for Maori concerns, which included the impact on the natural and cultural landscape.
If given the go-ahead, the farm would provide an estimated 15 fulltime jobs. Most of the work is expected to be done within 18 months and will be done by consultants — 81 planning, design and project management jobs — as well as during the 18 months that it's expected to take to construct (179 fulltime jobs).
Various hui have been held with the five iwi identified in the area and Ngati Hako say there'll be no economic benefit to their iwi.
"There is already power generation from Tirohia that contributes to the national grid. The economic benefit is to private individuals who have agreed to have these turbines placed on their land," says Ms Clarkin.
The Kaimai-Mamaku range has four ancient walking tracks historically used by the Ngati Hako and the tribe's historical traditions refer to Te Aroha as the stern of the waka (canoe) of the Hauraki people.
Relying on tohu (indicators) for weather, people and land, they worry the turbines will impact weather patterns and disturb the te uira (lightning) ua (rain) and kohu (mist).
"Te Aroha maunga (mountain) is the highest mountain peak in the Kaimai-Mamaku range and is one of two prominent maunga of significant importance to Hauraki iwi," says Ms Clarkin.
Kaimai Wind says the farm has the potential to assist in the Government's target for 90 per cent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025.
According to the New Zealand Wind Energy Association website, New Zealand has 17 wind farms supplying 6 per cent of New Zealand's annual electricity generation.
"Migratory and resident birds may also use habitat and airspace over the wind farm site ... some are migrants such as the South Island oystercatcher, bittern and North Island kaka, and long distance migrants such as bartailed godwits.
The site may provide a corridor along which seabird species migrate from Miranda to the Tauranga Harbour, Ohiwa Harbour, Maketu Estuary/Kaituna River mouth and Waihi Estuary/Pukehina Spit region," an assessment by Kessels Ecology showed.
Based on counts, it's also possible that 18 per cent of the rare migratory godwit birds fly over the Kaimai ranges en route to the Firth of Thame.
KAIMAI WIND FARM
* Is a subsidiary of Irish based Ventus Energy (NZ) Ltd whose owner Glenn Starr holds consents for an 11-turbine wind farm south of Kawhia.
* Total earthworks area proposed — 59.6ha
* Number of turbine platforms — 24
* New roading — 8km
* Independent commissioners will be appointed by both councils to make a decision, however the applicant can still apply to be heard in the Environment Court, in which case those who want to be heard must give notice and pay $100 to be a party to proceedings.