Board of Inquiry Report on the proposed National Policy Statement on Electricity Transmission

This page provides as background the 2007 Board of Inquiry Report to the Minister for the Environment on the proposed National Policy Statement on Electricity Transmission.

In the matter of the RESOURCE MANAGEMENT ACT 1991


IN THE MATTER of the Inquiry into the Proposed National Policy Statement on Electricity Transmission

TO The Minister for the Environment
Executive Building


Part 5 of the Resource Management Act 1991 provides (inter alia) for the making of national policy statements. The Minister for the Environment prepared a Proposed National Policy Statement for Electricity Transmission and pursuant to Section 47 of the Act, has appointed a Board of Inquiry to inquire into and report on the Proposed National Policy Statement. The members of that Board are the Hon Peter Salmon, CNZM, QC; Russell Howie; and Prue Kapua. The Minister set terms of reference for the Board.

Pursuant to s.48 of the Act the Board gave notice of the Proposed National Policy Statement inquiry and ensured that that notice was published in the manner prescribed by that section. 71 written submissions were received. Some of those were late, but the Board resolved that they be received. Of those 71 submissions, 35 submitters indicated that they wished to be heard. The Board conducted hearings pursuant to the Act at Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland. The Board wishes to thank all submitters and, in particular, those who attended and were heard at the hearings, for the very considerable assistance provided.

The duty of the Board

The Board’s obligations are set out in s.51 of the Act which provides:

51     Matters to be considered and board of inquiry’s report

(1)     The board of inquiry must consider the following matters:

  1. the matters in Part 2; and
  2. the proposed national policy statement; and
  3. any submissions received on the proposed national policy statement; and
  4. any other relevant matter.

(2)     After considering the matters, the board of inquiry must arrange for a report and recommendations to be made to the Minister within any terms of reference set by the Minister.

The Board has considered all the submissions and the further material by those who attended the hearings. The terms of reference prepared by the Minister require the Board to provide in its report and recommendations on the wording of the proposed National Policy Statement, including the objectives and policies. The report and recommendations may also address

  1. The internal consistency of the proposed National Policy Statement as a whole, and ways to address any potential inconsistencies.
  2. The level of certainty or clarity provided by the proposed National Policy Statement and where this is inadequate, ways to improve it.
  3. The removal or further refinement of issues, objectives and policies where this is appropriate for achieving the policy approach of the proposed National Policy Statement.
  4. The identification of any unintended or unforeseen, but likely outcomes of the proposed National Policy Statement and ways to address these.

The purpose of National Policy Statements

S.45 of the Act provides:

45     Purpose of national policy statements (other than New Zealand coastal policy statements)

(1)     The purpose of national policy statements is to state objectives and policies for matters of national significance that are relevant to achieve the purpose of this Act.

(2)     In determining whether it is desirable to prepare a national policy statement, the Minister may have regard to –

  1. The actual or potential effects of the use, development, or protection of natural and physical resources:
  2. New Zealand’s interests and obligations in maintaining or enhancing aspects of the national or global environment:
  3. Anything which affects or potentially affects any structure, feature, place, or area of national significance:
  4. Anything which affects or potentially affects more than one region:
  5. Anything concerning the actual or potential effects of the introduction or use of new technology or a process which may affect the environment:
  6. Anything which, because of its scale or the nature or degree of change to a community or to natural and physical resources, may have an impact on, or is of significance to, New Zealand:
  7. Anything which, because of its uniqueness, or the irreversibility or potential magnitude or risk of its actual or potential effects, is of significance to the environment of New Zealand:
  8. Anything which is significant in terms of section 8 (Treaty of Waitangi):
  9. The need to identify practices (including the measures referred to in section 24(h), relating to economic instruments) to implement the purpose of this Act:
  10. Any other matter related to the purpose of a national policy statement.

The purpose of the Act is, of course, set out in s.5. It is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. Clearly, the national electricity grid is relevant to achieving that purpose. It is also apparent that in terms of s.45 subs(2), the grid affects more than one region and it seems to us it is particularly relevant in terms of paras (c), (f) and (g) of subs (2).

The national electricity grid has some unique characteristics. It is extensive and linear and thus passes through the territory of numerous local authorities. The benefits of the transmission network may often be distant from the territory of the local authority through which the transmission lines run. This means that there may be local adverse environmental effects but the benefits are spread throughout the country. Some submissions questioned the need for a National Policy Statement on Electricity Transmission. Others suggested that if there was a need the proper course to follow was to include electricity transmission in s.6 of the Act. We are satisfied that the national transmission network is a proper subject for a National Policy Statement. We are also satisfied that it would not be appropriate to include it in s.6. We consider that there is a difference between a matter of national significance and a matter of national importance. Clearly the Act draws a distinction by providing separately for the creation of National Policy Statements in respect of discrete activities. Some submitters maintained that the National Policy Statement should be considered along with the proposed National Environment Standards and/or with National Policy Statements on other aspects of electricity or energy. We are satisfied that electricity transmission may properly be considered separately from these other matters.

The proposed National Policy Statement

There were a significant number of comments on the content of the proposed statement. A number of submitters considered that policy 1, in particular, was not really a policy but was rather part of the objective. Others considered that the policies needed elaboration and, in some cases, explanation. We were greatly assisted by a number of submitters who provided us with alternative policy statements. Transpower provided an alternative statement at the commencement of the hearing. We thought it would be useful to obtain comments from other submitters on Transpower’s alternative, so we arranged for it to be circulated to those who were intending to appear before us. As a consequence we received a number of very helpful comments and some further alternative proposals. On the other hand, there were those submitters who considered that with some minor modification the publicly advertised proposal was satisfactory. We have taken all these views into account in amendments which we intend to recommend. Meridian Energy Limited, for example, submitted that the proposed statement fell short of being effective because it failed to provide clear policy leadership or direction as to:

  1. The national significance of the electricity transmission network.
  2. The enablement of its development.
  3. The approach to balancing competing considerations, including the management of environmental effects.

Clarity is essential. National Policy Statements sit at the top of the Act’s plan and policy instrument hierarchy. S.55 requires local authorities to amend their planning documents to give effect to provisions of a National Policy Statement that affect those documents and s.55 (2)b allows such a statement to direct that, “Specific provisions are to be included without notification for hearing …”. This underscores the importance of clarity and effectiveness. The Tasman District Council criticised the vagueness of the objective and submitted that the proposed National Policy Statement does not have a clearly identified purpose and consequently does not clearly state:

  • what actions are required of councils
  • what actions are not available to councils

Submitters helpfully provided dictionary definitions of the words “objective” and “policy”. An objective is, by definition, something towards which effort is directed; an aim, goal or end of action. A policy is a definite cause or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions. There is criticism of the use of the word “should” in policies 3, 4, 5 and 6 as indicating a discretionary approach, rather than a directive one. We have addressed these criticisms in the changes we propose to the policy statement.

Other issues which we have determined should be addressed include:

  1. A distinction between existing and new or upgraded transmission lines.
  2. The importance of long-term planning and the integration of requirements with other relevant utility providers.
  3. The distinction between urban and rural locations.
  4. The question of development under power lines.

Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs)

We heard a number of very detailed and carefully prepared submissions relating to the perceived detrimental health effects arising from the electric and magnetic fields emitted by high voltage transmission lines. We were impressed by the sincerity of the submitters and the care and effort that they had gone to present their views to the Board. We attach a comment on these concerns as an annexure to this report. We consider that it is important for the Government to keep these issues under constant review. We have concluded, however, that it would not be appropriate for a National Policy Statement to require compliance with other than nationally and internationally approved standards, although it is appropriate to consider precautionary measures as well.

Other matters raised by submitters

There were a number of issues raised by submitters which were inappropriate for inclusion in the National Policy Statement. They concerned matters which were not relevant in terms of the Resource Management Act and must be addressed if they are to be addressed at all in other legislation or in other ways. Federated Farmers of New Zealand, for example, were concerned with compensation issues. Submitters raised issues relating to access to land. Neither of these matters is appropriate for inclusion in the National Policy Statement. Some submissions claimed that Transpower was receiving beneficial treatment through having a policy statement relating to transmission network. The policy statement is, of course, limited to the national grid which is owned by Transpower. However, the justification for the National Policy Statement is the national significance of the transmission network. The issue of its ownership is incidental to that.

Some supply companies considered that the policy statement should be extended to apply to all high tension lines, whether or not they were part of the national grid. We were not persuaded that this would be appropriate. It is the New Zealand-wide nature of the grid that is one of the principal reasons for it being of national significance. The same cannot be said of supply lines which in most cases are contained within one region. Problems of cut-off points also arise.


Forwarded with this report is our revised proposed National Policy Statement for the consideration of the Minister.

Hon Peter Salmon’s – signature

Prue Kapua’s – signature

Russell Howie’s – signature

A note on electric and magnetic fields (12 November 2007)

  1. Magnetic field strengths below operating transmission lines depend on the current being carried and the design of the circuit. For “single circuit flat-top” (i.e. three single phase wires slung parallel to each other, a typical 220kV line), the magnetic field directly under the line 1m above the ground is 28.3 micro teslas. At 10 m from the centerline it is 22.6 and 9.9 at 20m from the centerline. Typical electric fields are 5 to 2100 volts per metre.
  2. General public and medical concern about possible effects on people and their health from exposure to 50 hertz power system electric and magnetic fields has been evident for some decades. Field and laboratory research into both acute effects and chronic effects has resulted in exposure guidelines published in 1998 by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), reviewed and confirmed by that organization in 2003 and reviewed again in 2007 by the World Health Organisation. Those guidelines set what are called reference levels for general public exposure at 5000 volts per metre in respect of electric fields and 100 micro-teslas in respect of magnetic fields.
  3. The World Health Organisation in 2007 after a review of the available health effects data from 50 hertz electric and magnetic fields concluded that policy makers should;
    1. establish guidelines for field exposure for both the general public and workers; (the best source of guidance are the international guidelines)
    2. implement very low-cost precautionary procedures to reduce exposures;
    3. implement very low-cost measures when constructing new facilities to reduce exposures;
    4. consider reducing field exposures when changes to sources are contemplated;
    5. improve planning for the siting of major facilities that create these fields.
  4. There were 36 submitters that raised the issue of adverse environmental effects from the electric and magnetic fields. Virtually all considered that it was desirable to specify standards that were consistent, soundly based, and up to date. Some suggested the actual standard to be achieved could be expressed as a National Environmental Standard. Several emphasized the need to plan both the grid design and location and the urban development so that any adverse effects from EMFs could be avoided. There were wide ranging views on the level of magnetic field strength that could be considered safe from a health point of view. ICNIRP and WHO recommended a maximum level of 100 micro teslas while some submitters considered the maximum should be no greater than 0.4 micro teslas.
  5. Mr Gledhill from The National Radiation Laboratory, Ministry of Health, considers the ICNIRP guidelines are appropriate but recommends low or no cost measures to reduce or avoid exposures. He acknowledges there is a weak but relatively consistent association (correlation) between exposure to relatively strong power frequency magnetic fields (time averaged exposure greater than 0.4 micro teslas) and an increased risk of childhood leukemia. However he said the evidence was not adequate to reach a cause and effect relationship so there was no basis on which to adopt maximum exposure levels less than the current international guidelines. The “association” did provide grounds for what is called “prudent avoidance”.
  6. Benefit – cost analysis has been used, putting a value on lives saved and the enjoyment of good health and the cost of avoiding exposure or limiting it to lower levels. The rarity of identified health effects and the high cost of reducing exposure has led to the adoption of low or no cost measures to reduce exposure.
  7. The International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2002 has classified magnetic fields from transmission lines as category 2B, “Possibly carcinogenic”; i.e. limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but no support from animal or other studies. Examples given include car exhaust, coffee and pickled vegetables.
  8. Submissions by Dr Smart1 and Dr Bennet2 for New Era Energy, presented extensive statements to show their view of the serious adverse health effects of these magnetic fields even down to exposures of 0.4 micro teslas. Their submissions were impressive.
  9. Dr Smart said typical background AC magnetic fields in homes would be less than 0.1 micro teslas and that nearby high voltage power lines would dominate the background levels imposing continuous magnetic field strengths of 5 micro teslas or more. He has undertaken an extensive literature search on the health effects of EMFs and refers to some 92 references with a further 48 references identified. He traversed research on cell behaviour, epidemiological evidence, the practice in some other countries and he observed that a time averaged exposure of 100 micro teslas is unlikely to ever occur, implying that such a maximum level is an ineffectual control.
  10. Dr Bennet reinforced Dr Smart’s statements and repeatedly stressed the correlation between childhood leukemia and exposure to magnetic fields from transmission lines and the other likely health effects. She considers that the evidence for harmful effects is strong enough for us to take the precautionary approach of adopting a target maximum of 0.4 micro teslas. She also urges the separation of transmission lines and sensitive land use activities.
  11. The best guidance we have as to the acceptable exposure to magnetic fields from transmission lines has to be the international guidelines endorsed by the WHO this year. We note that circumstances which lead to a long-term exposure to fields as strong as 100 micro teslas are hard to imagine and we were given no examples. So a maximum set at that level will have virtually no effect in regulating the juxtaposition of transmission lines and sensitive land uses.
  12. We conclude that steps should be taken in New Zealand to avoid, remedy or mitigate the agreed association of adverse health effects with strong 50 hertz magnetic fields. To this end ongoing research and appropriate long-term planning to separate transmission lines and sensitive land uses should be pursued.
  13. Other factors such as physical constraints, visual aspects, topography, existing land use and costs will also influence a decision on adequate separation of these activities. Where it is practicable and economic the general approach should be to protect the public from average exposure to relatively strong magnetic fields.

1 Dr Smart, MBChB (Otago) FRCS (Eng) FRCSEd FRACS, Urologist.

2 Dr Bennet, Assoc Prof, Fetal and Neonatal physiologist, Univ of Auckland.