Hapū and Greenpeace back to court for stricter hydrogen rules

7:57 pm on 30 November 2022
A simulated view of the wind turbine towers from Te Aroha Marae

A simulated view of the wind turbine towers from Te Aroha Marae Photo: Supplied via LDR

Some hapū of Ngāruahine are heading to the Appeal Court with Greenpeace to seek tighter controls on a plan to make hydrogen from wind-powered electricity in South Taranaki.

Hiringa Energy wants to build four 206-metre tall wind turbines at Kāpuni, powering a plant to make hydrogen, which would be used as an ingredient to make urea at the adjacent Ballance fertilizer factory.

Hiringa says it will shift the hydrogen use over five years to power heavy vehicles instead, replacing diesel with a carbon emission-free alternative.

But the hapū and Greenpeace say there's nothing in the resource consent to stop Hiringa using the hydrogen to make nitrogen fertiliser for decades.

Hiringa Energy did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.

The consent was fast-tracked - without a public hearing - under the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-Track Consenting) Act.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Steve Abel said the High Court should have decided that the Covid recovery Consenting Panel breached the Act, by not enforcing the shift to heavy transport fuel.

"The Consenting Panel rightly identified that transition to 100 percent fuel use within five years was a critical reason for its decision to grant the consent, yet the conditions of the consent don't require that transition to ever occur.

"This effectively allows Hiringa and Ballance to keep using hydrogen for manufacturing polluting synthetic nitrogen fertiliser for decades, and never actually transition to using it for transport fuel."

Greenpeace laid out a huge banner next to Ballance's Kāpuni plant in July as it campaigned against synthetic nitrogen fertiliser including urea.

Greenpeace laid out a huge banner next to Ballance's Kāpuni plant in July as it campaigned against synthetic nitrogen fertiliser including urea. Photo: Greenpeace / Ben Sarten via LDR

Kanihi Umutahi me ētehi atu hapū secretary Allen Web said the lack of certainty on the transition to hydrogen fuel undermined the consent, and disrespected Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles.

"Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser including urea is one of many pollutants currently affecting our rivers, waterways, and potable water.

"For decades, our people have fought to exert their kaitiakitanga and tikanga to safeguard our maunga, awa, whenua and moana so that the next generation don't have to. When does it stop?"

John Hooker of Ōkahu-Inuawai me ētehi ātu said his hapū already opposed the amount of urea fertiliser used on farms.

"We support Greenpeace appealing the case because we object to the ability to perpetually create urea, where our marae has a deep well poisoned by aquifer nitrates."

Ngāti Haua's Karl Adamson said his hapū had expressed several concerns during consultation - including fertiliser production.

"What the hydrogen was being used to produce, in the start-up period… we considered this to be 'dirty energy.'"

A simulated view of a wind turbine tower from Aotearoa Pā

A simulated view of a wind turbine tower from Aotearoa Pā Photo: Supplied via LDR

A simulated view of a wind turbine tower from Aotearoa Pā

Abel said the panel was also wrong to leave local councils to make decisions on the transition to hydrogen fuel, because council Treaty obligations were weaker.

"One clear intent of the fast-track wording was to give greater weight to Te Tiriti but the panel effectively bypassed that requirement by kicking transition decisions to the local council," he said.

Hooker said such an indifferent attitude to Te Tiriti was a concern.

"Our Ngāruahine Treaty of Waitangi settlement has occurred only seven years ago, whereby the Crown apologised then for its serious Treaty breaches: where is the sincerity of that apology?"

Opinions have varied amongst the six hapū of Ngāruahine: Ngāti Manuhiakai and Ngāti Tū, which hold mana whenua closest to the project, gave conditional support.

It's understood Ngāti Tū is now considering joining the Appeal Court action.

A cultural impact assessment by the iwi organisation Te Korowai o Ngāruahine initially gave conditional support, so long as the windmills were removed at the end of their useful life - a maximum of 35 years.

The four giant wind turbines would be the tallest structures in Taranaki, built in what Ngāruahine considers a highly-valued cultural landscape, impacting on their relationship with Taranaki Maunga.

The consenting panel agreed that any future replacement wind turbines must be built on the coastal side of State Highway 45, far from Taranaki Maunga, on a site chosen in collaboration with hapū.

But initial objections grew over time, and a new Te Korowai board unsuccessfully tried to overturn the consent in the High Court earlier this year.

In the High Court decision in early November Justice Grice found the consenting panel had not failed to consider the cultural landscape of Ngāruahine.

"The panel had acknowledged the effort Hiringa had gone to in order to ensure it had consulted iwi and hapū with an interest in the project, to determine how kaitiakitanga could be integrated into the project, to mitigate the cultural effects of the project and to build a relationship that would result in positive outcomes for the hapū, Te Korowai, the broader community and the environment."

Hiringa Energy's chief executive Andrew Clennett said then that the company wanted to strengthen those relationships as Taranaki transitions from a fossil fuel economy.

"We recognise that the project will have an impact on the landscape and the concerns of the appellants.

"Our goal is to work constructively with Te Korowai o Ngāruahine Trust, the hapū and the community to minimise that impact as far as possible."

Any turbines should be built near the coast, Hooker said.

"The potential erection of these hideous structures in our backyard creating eye pollution in relation to our spiritual interaction with our tupuna maunga is horrifying.

"They are four times higher than the Hāwera water tower, I shudder to think of the noise pollution for those residents within three kilometres of these towers."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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