By Robin Martin of RNZ
Proponents of an idea to build massive offshore wind farms off the coast of Taranaki are being warned its internationally renowned surf breaks will soon be protected and cannot be disturbed.
But a Venture Taranaki discussion paper says offshore electricity generation has huge potential for the region which even before Covid-19 had been dealt a significant economic blow with the ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration.
Taranaki has long been famed for its surf breaks.
Its exposure to Southern Ocean swells, the influence of Mt Taranaki on its winds and finger-like volcanic reef formations at its coastline all add up to fabulous surf conditions.
Now the Taranaki Regional Council, in its draft Coastal Plan, is aiming to formally recognise the surf breaks and protect them.
It's proposing to create a "Nationally Significant Surfing Area" capturing about 20 surf breaks from Kaihihi Road to Cape Road in South Taranaki, including the famed breaks Stent Road, Backdoor Stent and Farmhouse Stent.
The council also wants to offer varying degrees of protection to a further 120 surf spots around the province.
Regional councillor and Surfing Taranaki chief executive Craig Williamson explained what that meant.
"The principle is that the quality of a surf break isn't degraded by any development or anything else, so obviously one of the key factors involved in the quality of a surf break is the amount of swell that reaches it."
Williamson said that had direct implications for anyone planning to build offshore wind farms.
"Whoever is developing these plans or projects would have to find a way to mitigate any effect on swell corridors and surf breaks before they proceeded or they wouldn't be allowed to do it."
Two development scenarios are explored in the Venture Taranaki discussion document - a 200 megawatt and an 800 megawatt offshore wind farm - utilising 7-8 megawatt turbines.
They would occupy around 30 square kilometres and 120 square kilometres respectively, with turbines spaced approximately one kilometre apart.
The turbines would stand in less than 50 metres of water, tower 180 metres above the ocean and have blades with a diameter of about 150 metres.
An option for floating turbines is also discussed.
Oceanographer Peter McCoomb is among those calling for protection for surf breaks.
But McCoomb said despite their scale the proposed wind farms were unlikely to affect conditions for surfers.
"So typically you find that swell waves will just pass right through an array of offshore wind turbines with very little attenuation.
"In fact, you probably wouldn't even notice it from the shore, so they are not going to block the swell energy getting into the surf breaks. That simply isn't going to occur."
McCoomb said wind farms did, however, tend to reduce winds on their leeward side which might affect another group of surf users.
"There might be some localised reduction in wind for some areas that might cause some concern for some of the kite surfing and windsurfing community, but I think, once again, that could be quite localised and that would be worthy of further scrutiny."
Venture Taranaki chief executive Justine Gilliland said the discussion document made it clear there would be many regulatory hoops to jump through before any offshore wind farm could become a reality.
But she said the economic opportunity was too compelling not to investigate its potential.
"It keeps us as the energy province for New Zealand, but also gives us a significant opportunity for energy export.
"And it would involve many of the same skills that we already have in Taranaki, people who are used to working in an offshore environment from the current oil and gas sector that we have."
Gilliland said Venture Taranaki supported the creation of a "Nationally Significant Surfing Area" but did not believe the sites identified for potential offshore wind farms would affect surf conditions.
Elements of the regional council's draft Coastal Plan are currently going through the Environment Court appeals process.
Due to Covid-19 delays it is not clear when this process will be finalised.