Objectives

Objectives

To support achievement of the New Zealand Energy Strategy’s target for renewable electricity generation of 90 per cent by 2025 (based on delivered electricity in an average hydrological year) by recognising the national significance of renewable electricity generation activities in order to facilitate:

  • the operation, maintenance, and upgrading of existing renewable electricity generation activities; and
  • the development of new renewable electricity generation activities.

Alternative Options

A range of alternative options for addressing the problem identified with the status quo were identified and assessed against their ability to:

  • help promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources
  • establish the national significance of renewable electricity generation activities
  • establish a nationally consistent policy framework
  • be implemented in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost.

Non-regulatory options

Non-statutory guidance

Non-statutory guidance could potentially support achievement of the objective by:

  • guiding councils on how to appropriately respond to sections 7(i) and 7(j) of the RMA which require decision-makers to have particular regard to the effects of climate change and the benefits to be derived from the use and development of renewable energy.
  • identifying the matters relevant to decision-makers’ consideration of proposals to use and develop renewable energy resources.
  • guiding applicants and decision-makers on appropriate assessment methodologies and standards.
  • guiding councils decisions as to the appropriate consent status for particular activities and appropriate assessment criteria.

Depending on its scope, non-statutory guidance could be difficult, costly and time-consuming to develop, particularly if it sought to provide guidance on how to weigh potentially competing matters of national importance such as the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, use and development.  Also, because it has no statutory weight, non-statutory guidance alone can not be relied upon to effectively address the problem identified with the status quo. As such, non-statutory guidance cannot be relied upon to establish a consistent policy framework and it may not be able to be implemented in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Nevertheless, non-statutory guidance could compliment a NPS by helping to reduce council implementation costs and also by helping to promote the consistent interpretation and implementation of its policies.

Submissions made by the Minister solely or on behalf of the Crown

Submissions made by the Minister solely or on behalf of the Crown on particular applications and/or plan changes have the potential to assist decision-makers in the process of determining the national interest of a particular project. There are, however, two main factors that undermine the effectiveness of this alternative:

  • all of government submissions are ultimately considered alongside other submissions without being afforded additional weight 
  • all of government submissions could not be relied upon to address the lack of clarity within the decision-making framework as to the appropriate amount of weight that should be afforded to the benefits renewable electricity generation. 

In isolation, all these submissions would not establish a nationally consistent policy framework and cannot be relied upon as an alternative for addressing the problem identified with the status quo.  However, in some instances they may assist the implementation of an NPS. 

Regulatory options

Amending the RMA

Two approaches to amending the RMA were considered:

  • Amending the RMA to elevate the importance of renewable electricity generation into section 6 of the Act

    This would require decision-makers to consider the benefits of renewable electricity generation as a matter of national importance and would increase the weight decision-makers give to the benefits of renewable electricity generation.   However, Section 6 of the RMA currently has an environmental preservation and protection emphasis.  Inserting a ‘resource use and development’ emphasis into section 6 would challenge the established structure of the RMA and could require decision-makers to dramatically re-evaluate their interpretation of the purpose of the Act.  There could be no guarantee that the judgements of decision-makers would be consistent on this point.  It is conceivable that such a re-evaluation would result in case law that could be applied broadly in support of proposals to use and develop natural resources in general and it is unclear whether such an outcome would promote the sustainable management of New Zealand’s natural and physical environment.
  • Amending section 166 of the RMA to include electricity generators, thereby enabling them to issue notices of requirement for designations

    Requiring authorities are those bodies empowered under section 166 of the RMA to notify councils of their requirement for changes to be made to district plans to provide for specific works to be undertaken.
    Although electricity generators are currently excluded from applying for requiring authority status there are options available under the RMA and the Electricity Act 1992 for generators to seek requiring authority status if they consider this appropriate or helpful.  These options are complex, remain largely untested and are constrained in scope.  By providing generators with the ability to designate resources for the purposes of renewable electricity generation, the government would be sending a strong signal in support of the use and development of New Zealand’s renewable energy resources.  Despite this, the public is able to submit on the decisions of a requiring authority; decisions that would be made within the existing framework of the RMA and would be subject to appeal to the Environment Court.  In this context it is not possible to conclude that amending the RMA to enable generators to designate resources for the purposes of renewable electricity generation would either address the problem identified with the status quo or promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.  It is also unlikely that this alternative would be able to implemented in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost.  However, amending section 166 to enable generators to issue notices of requirement for designations may serve to complement other mechanisms for addressing the problem with the status quo and should be considered in light of the performance of the NPS in achieving the Objective.

Ministerial call-in process

Another option considered was to specify a generation capacity threshold above which all renewable electricity proposals would be called in.  Amending the RMA to set a call-in threshold would increase the level of certainty that national issues would be considered in decisions made on applications to use and develop natural and physical resources for the purpose of renewable electricity generation.  However, such a decision:

  • would undermine the Minister’s ability to decide when call-in is or is not appropriate
  • would, if set too low, dramatically increase the volume of projects required to be processed by the Ministry. 
  • Could, if set too high, impede proposals to develop small-scale and distributed generation by effectively sending a signal that the contributions of this form of development are not nationally significant. 
  • could build expectation that the government will move towards automatic call-in of other nationally significant activities

Importantly, decisions on projects called in by the Minister are still made under the existing RMA decision-making framework and subject to the existing requirement to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.  There is no guarantee, however, that decisions made under a modified call-in process would address the problem identified with the status quo.  It is also uncertain what effect this approach would have on processing timeframes and costs.

National environmental standard (NES)

Standardised assessment methodologies, effects thresholds and consent status could help reduce consent processing times and costs.  However, the diversity of technologies, resources, environments and communities involved would require the development of a range of separate standards and the process of developing these standards would be complex, contentious, time-consuming and costly.  Given that rapid action is required to address the problem identified with the status quo, a lengthy process is not desirable.  Furthermore:

  • decisions made in accordance with national standards are, in any case, likely to be challenged on the basis of site-specific information by both project proponents and opponents. 
  • in developing specific standards, the Ministry for the Environment could risk undermining the momentum that is building through case law towards the development of Court tested and approved methods and thresholds.  Such an approach may in fact delay certainty and may not improve upon the existing situation.
  • decision making at the local level is a fundamental aspect of the RMA and until such time as a very clear need for national standardisation is identified an approach that challenged this principle would not be appropriate.

An NES or NESs could help promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources by setting nationally consistent standards and effect thresholds.  However, even once NESs had been developed, all applications and submissions would be subject to assessment against the sustainability purpose of the RMA in the absence of a nationally consistent policy framework around renewable electricity generation and there could be no guarantee that an NES or NESs would address the problem identified with the status quo.  In addition, the costs and time associated with the development of an NES or NESs are likely to be significant. 

However, as the effect of the proposed NPS on decision-making becomes clear, it may be appropriate to consider whether a NES (or NESs) is necessary to support achievement of the objective. 

Summary assessment of alternative options

Ability to meet main assessment criteria

Guidance

Call-in threshold

All of government submissions

Amend section 166 of RMA

Amend section 6 of RMA

NES

NPS

Promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources

tick

-

-

-

cross

tick

tick

Establish the national significance of renewable electricity generation activities

cross

cross

cross

cross

tick

cross

tick

Establish a nationally consistent policy framework

cross

tick

cross

cross

cross

cross

tick

Be implemented in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost.

cross

-

-

cross

cross

cross

tick

 


 

Reviewed:
01/08/08