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Energy Options: Impartial consideration Urged

Business Council asks New Zealanders to give impartial consideration to the energy options for a sustainable future and for Parliament to amend the RMA this year

Peter Neilson, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (the Business Council) says that the current discussion about how to provide the right infrastructure and the right energy type to deliver a sustainable future for New Zealand is timely and points to the need for the RMA reform.

The Business Council says disputes arising from local opposition to new power plants and transmission lines show why parliament needs to amend the RMA Act this year.

New Zealand, after two decades during which demand has risen towards energy capacity despite an increased focus on conservation, now needs an expansion of capacity in both the generation and transmission if we are to avoid shortages.

Almost all New Zealanders want moderately priced reliable electricity, but almost no one wants a new plant or transmission lines near their home. These desires are incompatible and the current RMA legislation fails to deal adequately with this conflict between national objectives and local objections.

Central Government needs to get off the fence and provide the consenting authorities with a clear statement of national energy priorities through a National Policy Statement.

Locally elected councillors have to stop being made the meat in the sandwich by being required to weigh national policy objectives against local objections. Under current RMA process Councillors who bravely make decisions balancing national objectives against local objections are likely to see themselves defeated at the next local body election.

We need a replacement for “call in” which uses independent decision makers to decide on projects, after hearing from central government, on national priorities and from local interests on the objections.

The Business Council has made proposals along these lines to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee hearing submissions on the Resource Management and Electricity Act Amendment Bill that is currently under review.
The Resource Management Act planning process for a major project in New Zealand takes 4 years, twice as long as the typical construction time of 2 years.

“The Business Council is also working with industry participants on identifying options to achieve a sustainable energy plan for New Zealand looking 50 years out. As part of this study we are developing different scenarios for how we might proceed if we continue on the same track or if we seize the day and take some bold initiatives.

“We are seeing energy companies such as Meridian and Mighty River facing community resistance to power plants. Lines provider Transpower’s plan to develop additional infrastructure in the Waikato to service the Auckland region is also being challenged.

These are understandable responses by local communities – nobody wants power lines or plant in their neighbourhood.

But the debate for New Zealanders is much larger than this. Power companies themselves are between a rock and a hard place. They are tasked with providing the country with power. Without power there is no growth. If we can’t provide sufficient energy for industry, we will stifle growth, the economy and jobs.

The Auckland region is home to 1.3 million people and this has been growing at around 3.1 percent per annum or by 107 people per day. That’s about 11,000 additional households per year all of which will need power.

Reform of the RMA is also necessary if the New Zealand community is to meet its energy and other needs.

Central Government can’t stand on the fence – it needs to set clear National policies on how it wants our energy needs to be met.

The reality of New Zealand is that the lowest cost sources of power are a long way from the fastest growing area of the country in Auckland. We need an upgraded transmission system if we want reliable power at moderate cost. The increased use of renewables (hydro, wind) is dependent on having the transmission system upgraded.

The scenarios, which we alongside energy companies and business users are working on, will provide New Zealanders with some stark choices. First world countries depend on energy to fuel their economy but also to provide our people with their lifestyles of choice.

Mighty River Power has announced significant investment in geothermal research, this is welcome. We cannot rule out every option - hydro because of water allocations, wind because of windmills frightening the horses, coal because of potential CO2 emissions, without ensuring that in the long term we can keep our production going and the lights on.

New Zealand needs to have a grown up debate about this now. We will be publishing our study this year and will communicate this with a wide range of stakeholders as well as feeding into the Government’s own review of the energy options”.

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