Obstacles and Obligations: Wind Energy and Migratory Bird Protection in New Zealand
Wind farms create unique risks to birds because of the danger of the turbine blades, which can be up to 150 meters tall. Placement of wind farms in the wrong areas can have a detrimental impact on bird species. New Zealand’s commitment to renewable energy is shared with its obligations to protect biodiversity, which are reflected in the ratification of international conventions such as the Convention on Migratory Species and the Biodiversity Convention. Domestic legislation, such as the Resource Management Act 1991, seeks to enhance the development of alternative sources of energy with the intention of reducing the effects of climate change on the environment and conserving indigenous biodiversity. Migratory bird protection in the wind farm context in New Zealand relies upon environmental impact assessment under Schedule 4 of the Resource Management Act 1991. International obligations include protecting or endeavouring to protect 37 migratory bird species along their complete flight paths. The Resource Management Act 1991 does not meet international obligations to protect migratory birds in the wind farm consent process because (1) the assessment of environmental effects process fails to adequately identify effects on migratory birds; and (2) even if the assessment of environmental effects process adequately identifies effects on migratory birds, the RMA fails to give priority weight to effects on birds when it balances those effects with other factors in deciding to approve the wind farm application. Other countries provide guidance on the next steps for New Zealand to take to comply with its international obligations to migratory birds.