The Environmental Defence Society (EDS) says the government's refusal to use its call-in powers for proposed new power stations indicate it is not prepared to "walk the talk" when it comes to climate change.
The Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, has refused a request from EDS to call-in three proposed new power stations, a procedure under the Resource Management Act (RMA) that would have allowed thorough consideration of the national implications of the proposal.
EDS's climate change manager, Garry Law, said that he was "very surprised" at the decision.
“The Minister for the Environment has the power under the RMA to call-in proposals of national significance and in particular ones which affect New Zealand's international obligations to the global environment. An expert panel would then hear the consents with broader jurisdiction than regional councils.
"The Stratford combined cycle plant was subject to the call-in process early in the 1990s.
"The three new plants fit squarely into those statutory criteria. In fact there could not be better fit. There is a disconnect here between what the Government is saying internationally and what it is allowing to happen domestically.
"Power stations powered by natural gas have the potential to completely blow New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emission target. These are base load stations – they are being built to run most of the time.
“If they are all built they will together have the potential to emit 3.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere. That is a 5.3% blowout on our Kyoto Protocol target of getting total emissions back to 1990 level.
“The first two up (Contact Energy and Genesis) are both claiming they will reduce emissions by avoiding them from less efficient plants like Huntly, but in total emissions from these two exceed the actual emissions from Huntly that have occurred in the recent past.
"If the demand for electricity increases we could have a situation where these new plants are running as well as the old Huntly plant.
"If the applications had been called-in, we would be able to look at conditions relating to closure of older plants or at carbon offsets such as forest plantings. This is very difficult to do without call-in when the old power stations and the likely locations of offset forests are located across regional council boundaries.
"Two proposed plants, both 400MW stations proposed by Contact Energy Limited and Genesis Power Limited, have reached the stage of consent applications. The hearing of the Contact consents is scheduled for later this month. Another two, a 400MW station by the Natural Gas Corporation and a further 80MW station by Contact Energy, are in prospect.
"EDS is very supportive of the government's stance on climate change but it must walk the talk.
"The Ministry for the Environment is not even a submitter on the Contact consents.
"We have read the reasons for her decision and they are entirely unconvincing. The government cannot rely on non-statutory policy documents to control the market.
"We simply do not understand why Marian Hobbs would not agree to exercise her call-in powers and we are extremely disappointed," Mr Law concluded.