The Te Rere Hau Wind Farm, at Manawatu, was officially opened by Prime Minister Helen Clark last month. When completed, it will have 97 turbines generating enough electricity annually to power about 18,000 homes. Once it is fully commissioned, the farm will offset greenhouse gas emissions by around 103,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2008 and 2012 – the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. A director of Windflow Technologies, the company behind the venture, is Wharehine-based lawyer Heugh Kelly who has been championing environmental issues for decades, including 21 years as a director of the Environmental Defence Society. Local Matters editor Jannette Thompson caught up with Heugh at his home on the upper reaches of the Kaipara Harbour …
This is a lovely spot, how long have you lived here?
My wife Liz and I bought the property about 20 years ago and moved here about 12 years ago. We liked the quietness and the community here. People are pretty straightforward and we like that.
Where did you grow up?
I had an almost idyllic childhood in Samoa. My father Pat was general manager of Westec which managed a 1500 acre beef cattle and coconut plantation. We came and went as we pleased, spending our days swimming, fishing and horse riding. I loved training our horses for the local races. We’d feed them on green pawpaw and chaff, and would take them to the sea to practise racing. Later, I was sent Auckland Boys Grammar and it amazed me how people in Auckland could live next door to someone and not even know their name. My parents retired to NZ when I was 18 but I still visit Samoa quite regularly.
Did you always want to study law?
Not at all, I chose it by default. I stuck it out until a year before I was due to graduate and then just left to go truck driving. I did lots of odds jobs before pooling funds with some friends to buy 110 acres at Hokianga for $17,000. I spent five years there raising beef cattle, doing contract work like scrub cutting, working as a fleeco, and growing organic vegetables.
Environmentalism has become fairly mainstream, is enough being done to address green issues?
Not by the big polluters like the US. There’s been an enormous reaction to the threat of terrorism, and yet we are facing environmental change on a scale that could be immense. We’re already seeing the effects in our weather patterns – I feel we’re at the point where it is almost too late to stop what’s ahead. There’s no doubt that energy consumption will continue to rise in NZ because very little is being done to encourage solar hot water heating or better home designs. If we want to try to stop the atmosphere heating up, then we have to change to renewable energy sources. It’s one of the reasons I’m interested in wind turbines. It also makes good economic sense. We believe at Windflow Technologies that carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol could be worth around $500,000 annually, providing we met some definite timeframes.
When did you first become interested in environmental issues?
I’ve always had a strong feeling that the way capitalism was developing was unsustainable. I once heard Ralph Nadar say “capitalism tries to socialise its costs and privatise its profits”. The key to proper environmental outcomes is to prevent the socialisation of costs. If the environmental costs were factored into every product on the supermarket shelf, it would create a level playing field. It would also have a huge impact on how we shopped. As far as we know, we humans are the only species with consciousness so evolution has given us the role of shepherd for all species but I don’t believe we’ve done the job.
When did it become political for you?
I think US vice president Spiro Agnew’s visit to NZ was the turning point. He was here to try to get Holyoake to commit NZ troops to the Vietnam War. Tim Shadbolt was leading a peaceful sit-in outside the Big I (Hotel Intercontinental) where Agnew was staying and some of us from the Law School decided to go down for a closer look. Everyone was behaving peacefully but for some unknown reason, the Police decided they weren’t going to tolerate it. They brought in reinforcements in buses. When the protesters wouldn’t move, they began shoving them. Then the Police dogs got out of control and it turned into pandemonium. One dog jumped the fence where we were standing and bit a very respected law lecturer on the backside which really backfired on the Police when the story got into the papers. Anyway, the whole thing galvanised a lot of people to get involved, including myself.
When did you complete your law degree?
My first marriage ended during my time in Hokianga and I decided it was time to finish what I’d started. After graduating I went into criminal law and was very fortunate to assist Eb Leary, one of NZ’s top cross-examiners. But, I got tired of criminal law. The laws of disclosure were quite different then so you often went to court without any idea of what the Police evidence was against your clients or even how many witnesses they might have. If the client was lying, as they often were, there was no way of being able find this out until you got to court. It was totally frustrating. This was also prior to the Arthur Allen Thomas case. In those pre-Thomas days, any suggestion by a lawyer that the Police might be lying or fabricating evidence, which commonly happened, would normally go against you. After the Thomas case, the judiciary changed its attitude.
How did you become involved in the EDS?
I was nominated as the Law School representative. The society is made up of lawyers and scientists who advocate for conservation. They’re particularly involved in supporting cases that have the potential to establish precedents in sustainable environmental management. Environmental litigation has become increasingly difficult over the years. Cases are more complex, with the proponents prepared to spend large sums of money bringing in a huge number of expert witnesses. If you are going to have a credible case, then you have to match this. And, if you lose, there is the danger of heavy costs being awarded against you. Lots of money is riding on the outcome and it would be nothing for an applicant to spend up to $500,000 on expert witnesses and lawyers time. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt, it’s to pick our fights.
Are you involved in local issues?
We’re members of Guardians of the Kaipara which has been working with Kaipara District Council to protect foreshore vegetation and just to get Council to recognise that the Kaipara landscape is worth preserving. We’ve also supported the Oruawharo Marae on its opposition to sandmining and are opposing a plan by Biomarine to establish oyster farms over about 100 ha of the harbour, including a large sub-tidal seagrass bed.
Do you still practise law?
I work in commercial law, mostly for small companies. About five years ago I discovered surfing which is probably why less and less is being done around the property. If the waves are good at the weekend then that’s where I want to be. When you’re in the water early, the sun’s coming up and you’re just waiting for the next pulse of energy to come over the horizon, it brings on an incredible feeling of harmony. There’s a spiritual dimension to surfing and most surfers tend to be environmentalists. They appreciate clean water but also that sense of ‘oneness’ with the planet.