Government reveals plan to speed up renewable electricity consents


The government plans to speed up renewable energy consents by making sure national significance is given more weight in Resource Management Act (RMA) decision-making.

It is currently trying to overhaul the incredibly complex and lengthy act, the main law managing New Zealand's natural and physical resources.

Within the RMA, National Policy Statements (NPS) allow the government to set out objectives for matters of national significance and give direction to local authorities.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment and the Ministry for the Environment have released a 118-page consultation document, aiming to get feedback from the public on proposed changes to the National Policy Statement on renewable electricity generation and transmission. Submissions will be open until 1 June.

Minister for the Environment David Parker said the national direction for renewable electricity infrastructure was developed in 2011, before emissions reduction targets were incorporated into law, and is no longer fit for purpose.

National Policy Statements allow the government to set out objectives for matters of national significance and give direction to local authorities.
National Policy Statements allow the government to set out objectives for matters of national significance and give direction to local authorities. Photo credit: Supplied / Meridian Energy

"We need to rapidly expand our renewable energy infrastructure in order to meet our climate change goals."

The Natural and Built Environment Bill, the first part of the RMA reform work, has already carried over fast-track consenting for certain projects, including wind and solar. But the NPS amendment will allow for stronger policy direction.

"We don't just need to speed up the individual application, we need a lot more of them being applied for and granted. And so this is trying to make it easier for them to get a consent," Parker explained.

"We're not saying that everything ought to be consented. We're just saying, overall, it needs to be easier than it is now at both a community level and for bigger projects."

Of particular focus for the amendments was issuing more consents for wind farms. While Parker believed geothermal consents were not that difficult, and he was not envisaging many more hydro consents, the amendments would aid their renewals.

Parker said New Zealand was one of the windiest countries in the world, and its wind farms were some of the most efficient.

"We are incredibly fortunate as a country that our transition to a low carbon economy will be one of the cheapest in the world, because we have such abundant and efficient renewable resources. But you can only use them if you consent them."

It was likely some of the infrastructure would potentially decrease local amenity values. But Parker said every region would need to do their bit, and not simply want work to be done in another region just because they did not want it there.

"There are some detractions from visual amenity that we're going to have to put up with as a country if we're going to get the renewable generation that we need in order to overcome."

Parker said he expected councils to work with Māori to identify the most precious sites, but it did not necessarily mean Māori would have a right to veto.

"You do have to take into account Māori points of cultural significance, as you do have to landscapes of national significance and areas of significant biodiversity. But you can't allow them in all cases to trump the need for renewable generation, and the new system won't allow that."

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods.
Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods. Photo credit: AM

'We want to cut red tape'

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods said new National Environment Standards would seek to better enable small and community-scale renewable electricity projects, including iwi-run developments.

"These projects can often be disproportionately disadvantaged by consenting processes. We want to cut red tape and help achieve these aspirations," she said.

Last month, National announced its Electrify New Zealand policy, which would cut the red tape on consents.

The plan's goal would require resource consent decisions to be issued in one year.

David Parker admitted the government's plan doesn't go quite that far as National's, as it allowed for a few more controls. He said it was not as simple as making everything a permitted activity.

"One of the matters of discretion that the councils can take into account is whether it will have that flicker effect on neighbours, that will make life unpleasant for neighbours. You couldn't do that if it was a permitted activity," he said.

"There is a bit more sophistication required to this than the National Party would have you believe."

Parker expected the amended National Policy Statements on renewable generation to be in place by the end of this year.

The government also planned to reveal further funding information for the Industrial Decarbonisation Fund later on Thursday.