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4. Alternatives to the Status Quo

While it is not explicitly required within section 32, it is considered that it is relevant to evaluate the alternative means of resolving the problem identified with the status quo.

In this section, various policy and non-policy options are considered where these might provide appropriate alternatives to the status quo that could fully address the problem stated in section 3. The alternatives considered are:

  • amendment of the RMA

  • ministerial call-in of transmission proposals

  • all-of-government submissions on transmission proposals

  • enhancing the status quo

  • easements over the entire transmission network

  • designations over the entire transmission network

  • a national environmental standard

  • a national policy statement.

Table 1 summarises these alternatives.

Note that there is currently no accepted alternative to the ICNIRP guidelines as the basis for dealing with electric and magnetic field (EMF) issues associated with the electricity transmission network (Policy 9).

The criteria used for this assessment are:

  • establish the national significance of electricity transmission

  • establish a national policy framework

  • establish a consistent policy framework

  • implement in a reasonable timeframe and at reasonable cost.

4.1 Amendments to the Resource Management Act

Amendments could be made to the RMA so that Part 2 explicitly recognises the importance of the transmission network to the country. Upon enactment, such changes would have an immediate effect on decision-making on policy statements, plans, notices of requirement and resource consent applications.

However, while amendment to the RMA would enable the national benefit of the network to be recognised, it would not adequately resolve the current problem. The main reason for this is that amendments to the Act do not offer the detailed policy guidance required to establish a consistent policy framework, nor afford the opportunity to adequately address all elements of the problem.

Table 1: Alternatives to the status quo

Alternative to the status quo Main effect on electricity transmission Main weakness

‘Call in’

Would fully explore the national implications of a proposal in addition to local considerations.

Would not provide a policy framework within which decisions on transmission proposals could be made.

All-of-government submissions

Would set out the government’s position, including national policy considerations, on a proposal.

Would not provide a policy framework within which decisions on transmission proposals could be made.

Changes to the RMA

Could provide a clear signal on the importance of transmission to decision-makers.

Would not provide a detailed policy framework within which decisions on transmission could be made.

Enhanced status quo: NPS Policy 5 (maps) and NZECP 34

Would increase awareness, and increase protection.

NZECP 34 will only address a limited range of activities that create risk.

Better enforcement of the NZECP 34 would cost more.

Negotiation of easements over the entire existing network

Would enable Transpower to incorporate restrictions on activities adjoining the network.

Would only address activities on land directly affected by the network, not the effects of activities on nearby properties.

Could have significant costs due to compensation associated with the easements, and significant time requirements in negotiating such easements.

Would represent a re-litigation of matters considered for the Electricity Act 1992.

Deemed designations over the existing network

Would confirm the right of the existing network as a legally established activity.

Would enable maintenance and some upgrades of the existing network without further resource consent requirements under district plans.

Would not provide for new lines in new locations, and would not provide a policy framework within which decisions on new transmission could be made.

Would not remove the need for resource consent under regional plans.

Would have significant costs and delays because of Transpower’s need to purchase land or compensate land owners for the interest taken by the designation.

Would significantly reduce participation rights.

Transpower requiring designations over the existing network

Would confirm the right of the existing network as a legally established activity.

Would not provide a policy framework within which decisions on new transmission could be made.

Would not remove the need for resource consent under regional plans.

Would significantly increase costs and delays because of Transpower’s need to purchase land or compensate land owners for the interest taken by the designation, and the designation process.

National environmental standard

Provides a single consistent set of regulatory rules.

Not a full policy framework allowing some continuing inconsistency, and some costs in implementation.

National policy statement

Establishes national significance of transmission and provides a national policy framework within a defined timeframe.

Does not prescribe rules that ensure consistency, but courts and common practice will establish accepted approaches and increase consistency over time.

Source: NZIER

4.2 Ministerial ‘call-in’ and all-of-government submissions

The use of Ministerial call-in powers (under sections 140 to 150AA of the RMA) would enable nationally significant resource consent or notice of requirement proceedings associated with the transmission network to consider the national interest, as well as local interests and environmental values, and would therefore enhance the likelihood that national interest would be applied consistently throughout the country.

As identified under the discussion on the status quo, this is already possible under the RMA and has been recently used. However, the opportunity exists to use these powers more frequently.

The preparation of all-of-government submissions presents another option by which to ensure the national interest is considered during RMA proceedings. This would require all government agencies with an interest in a proposal to coordinate their views and present a single and consistent position on the overall national interest. In doing so, this would avoid local authorities needing to make a determination on the national interest.

Despite the apparent benefits of these options, none would appropriately resolve the status quo. In particular, use of these two options would not create a national policy framework for the management of the network. Without such a framework, mechanisms such as the Ministerial call-in powers would need to be exercised within a vacuum of accepted policy on the benefits of transmission, and would therefore be less effective.

4.3 Enhanced status quo and easements over the network

If achievable, the easement option would enable Transpower to effectively manage nearby land-use activities that could affect the operation of the network. However, this alternative would not enable the management of activities on adjoining properties. Also, the likely transaction costs incurred by Transpower and others in determining the value loss and due compensation, and the negotiation of agreements with individual land owners, would be substantial. These costs would ultimately be passed on to electricity consumers, with further consequences for their decisions on the use of electricity. Finally, the requirement for easements associated with the transmission network was resolved as part of the Electricity Act 1992.

The enhanced status quo alternative would rely on including the transmission network on plan maps and improved enforcement of NZECP 34:2001 to minimise the effect of land-use activities on the transmission network. As discussed below, including the transmission network on plan maps should increase awareness of its presence among council resource consent and building consent processing officers and potential purchasers of land. Improved enforcement of NZECP 34 would reduce the risk of disruption to the transmission network from some of the land-use activities that the policy options seek to address.

In the Reference Group report, improved enforcement of NZECP 34 is considered, among other mechanisms, in some detail. The discussion identifies significant limitations in terms of the mechanics of enforcing NZECP 34 and also the scope of the Code. Based on this discussion, it appears that significant costs would be incurred in attempting to implement the Code, and also that the effectiveness of this mechanism would be limited.

It is therefore considered that these alternatives do not represent the most appropriate means to resolve the current problem.

4.4 Designations over the network

A further alternative is for designations that provide for works to be created for the entire transmission network. These designations could be achieved in two ways.

  • Transpower, as a requiring authority, could issue notices of requirement to all local authorities traversed by the network.

  • legislation could be introduced which deems a designation to exist over the network, and which defines those works covered by that designation.

The first option (notices of requirement) could only be achieved at significant cost to Transpower, because of the requirement for Transpower to ‘take an interest’ and pay compensation for loss of land value to land owners affected by the designation. The Reference Group report notes that many thousands of land owners would be affected by such designations. The transaction costs of determining lost value, negotiating with each land owner and paying the compensation due would be substantial, and would probably be disproportionate to the benefit obtained (ie, the avoided costs of going through current RMA procedures).

In addition, Transpower would face the cost of obtaining the designation. It is likely that Transpower would need to submit notices of requirement in all districts, and each notice of requirement would need to be accompanied by a specific assessment of environmental effects.

Post-notification, some cost savings may be able to be obtained through joint hearings, or a Ministerial call-in, that incorporate notices of requirement across multiple local authorities. However, the hearing costs would still be significant. It is also difficult to see how the matters of detail likely to be raised during such a process could be addressed at anything above a regional level. Consequently, the use of joint hearings would only have a limited effect in terms of being able to reduce the costs of the process to Transpower.

Given the standard of information required, consultation expectations and the controversy that is likely to be associated with each notice of requirement, the cost of obtaining each notice of requirement could be in the vicinity of $500,000, and possibly more. Furthermore, achieving designations across the country could take in the vicinity of 10 to 15 years. This timeframe is based on the expectation that it would involve multiple projects that could not be resourced concurrently.

Such a timeframe would cause significant delays for Transpower in relation to its ongoing maintenance needs and planned network upgrade. Plus, there would be no guarantee that all notices of requirement would be confirmed, or that for those that are confirmed the conditions imposed on each would be consistent. Consequently, in addition to a significant cost, it is unlikely that this approach would be effective in resolving the current inconsistencies.

The second option (legislation that deems designations to exist over the network) was considered by the Reference Group, which concluded that it was not appropriate. The reasons for this finding were, among other things, the:

  • potential cost of the requirement to take an interest in the designated land

  • loss of participation rights.

Although the transaction cost of achieving the designation would be greatly reduced, the cost of compensating for the interest taken in land alongside the network and the significant loss of participation rights mean that such an approach would not be appropriate. Also, the loss of participation rights could have significant follow-on implications in relation to the willingness of land owners to cooperate with Transpower, government and local authorities on other matters.

4.5 Non-statutory guidance

In an attempt to resolve the current problem, non-statutory guidance could be provided by the Ministry in relation to:

  • the national benefits of the transmission network, and how these should be considered as part of RMA-based decision-making

  • model policy statement and plan provisions

  • appropriate methods for mitigating the adverse effects of the transmission network, including model consent conditions.

Such guidance might be provided by way of publications and a series of workshops for practitioners held across the country. The guidance material could be developed in consultation with not only Transpower, but also local government and land owner representatives.

The benefits of this approach would be to increase awareness of the issues associated with the transmission network and of best practice in relation to the management of these issues. However, the translation of this guidance into policy and plan provisions, and its use in consent conditions, would be voluntary. It is likely that the uptake of the guidance would be influenced by the level of sensitivity of the local community to the transmission network. In those areas where the local community has become sensitised to the transmission network, the political will to implement the guidance material may be less than in other locations. These areas are also likely to be those within which the need for ongoing maintenance and upgrade of the network is of higher priority.

For this reason, the effectiveness of the guidance could not be assured. Given the national importance of the network, a guidance approach would not represent the most appropriate way to resolve the current problem.

4.6 National environmental standard

An NES could be prepared to establish a consistent regulatory framework for network activities and for third-party activities within close vicinity of the network.

The benefits of this approach would be a single set of nationally consistent rules under which the maintenance, upgrade and development of the network would occur.

An NES would not provide a full policy framework within which resource consents for the upgrade of the network, or resource consents for third-party activities, would be considered. As a result, the national benefits of the network are likely to continue to be considered in an inconsistent manner, and decisions to grant or refuse such consents would reflect this inconsistency and be influenced by local interests and sensitivities. Further, conditions on such consents are likely to retain a degree of inconsistency. An NES may also involve appreciable costs in implementation, particularly for local authorities and land owners.

It is therefore considered that an NES would not be the most appropriate way to resolve the current problem.

4.7 National policy statement

An NPS provides a policy framework which must be given effect to in regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans and which must be considered as part of decisions on resource consent applications and notices of requirements (designations).

Therefore, while an NPS does not establish rules associated with the management of the network or the management of third-party activities near the network, it offers the opportunity to set a policy framework which directs both:

  • the content of plans and policy statements below it on the RMA hierarchy

  • the nature and content of resource consent / designation decisions.

As an NPS leaves discretion for local councils regarding how they give effect to it, it is not likely an NPS will result in 100 percent consistency between districts. However, it is considered that, through the process of council and Environment Court hearings, accepted approaches to the implementation of an NPS would be developed which will ensure a relatively high level of consistency is achieved.

Given these points, it is considered that an NPS would be the most appropriate means of resolving the current problem.

4.8 Summary of alternatives

In this section, we have considered a list of alternatives to the status quo.

It is considered that, of the options presented, the NPS would most fully address the problem of recognising the national benefits of transmission in a way that creates consistent cross-border treatment of transmission. Notwithstanding this, it is recognised that the several alternatives could be appropriate complementary measures to the NPS. In particular, actions such as a Ministerial call-in, all-of-government submissions and non-statutory guidance would be beneficial.

Overall, however, the development of an NPS is seen as the most appropriate approach to dealing with the problem stated in section 3. We now turn to the evaluation of the objective and policies of the NPS. A summary of the alternatives against the common criteria for comparison is presented in Table 2.

Table 2: Summary of alternatives against criteria

  Establishes national significance of transmission Establishes national policy framework Establishes consistent policy framework Implementable at reasonable cost and timeframe

Non-statutory guidance

X

X

X

Easements

X

X

X

X

RMA amendment

X

X

Designations

X

X

X

X

Ministerial call-in

√1/2

X

X

All-of-government submissions

X

X

X

National environmental standard

X

X

X

National policy statement

Source: NZIER