Public should get a say on new Waikato power station

I had an opinion piece published in the Waikato Times about a controversial proposal to build a new gas-fired power station. It’s not on their website yet, so here it is:

If you think the public would get a say on an application for a large new power station that could belch out 425,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, you’d be wrong.

Nova Energy is applying for resource consents to build a big gas-burning power plant in south Waikato. It’s likely that some of the gas it burns be from fracking, and it will contribute to climate change.

However, only directly affected neighbours will get a say in the resource consent process and, under the outdated rules in the Resource Management Act, the pollution that causes climate change can’t even be properly considered.

A few weeks ago, I went to visit some of the neighbours. They love living in the rural environment and they worry about that being ruined with new, 20 metre high power plant structures. They said they feel powerless and frustrated because Nova’s given them conflicting information that doesn’t stack up.

Otorohanga mayor Max Baxter says he’ll do everything he can to see the power plant built. I understand he wants jobs in his district, and fair enough, but Nova’s own documents say that only 8 jobs will be created in the long term. Mayor Baxter should look overseas, where in places like the USA the clean energy industry now employs more people than gas and coal combined.

At a time when we are seeing the effects of climate change all around us and we urgently need to play our part in the global mission to reduce emissions, the Green Party is calling on the Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith, to step in.

The Minister can ‘call it in’ as a matter of national significance and refer it to the Environment Court or a board of inquiry. This gas-burning power plant would affect the whole country, so Smith should set up a board of inquiry so everyone can have a say.

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The Resource Management Act lists the criteria for calling in a project. There’s a strong case to call in this project because:

  • It is likely to affect New Zealand’s international obligations under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
  • It involves a significant ongoing use of resources (including fracked gas).
  • It relates to an electricity network utility that will have nationwide effects on the electricity system.

Click here to add your name to the letter asking the Environment Minister to call in this project

In 1993, the Environment Minister at the time, Simon Upton, established a board of inquiry under these rules to hear the application for the proposed 400 megawatt Stratford gas-fired power station in Taranaki. The board concluded that the station’s operation would significantly increase New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and make it harder for New Zealand to meet its climate change obligations.

Unfortunately, since then the Resource Management Act has been changed so that it’s harder for climate change to be considered. Two decades on, if the Resource Management Act can’t help protect the environment from things that cause climate change, clearly we’ve gone backwards.

Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes checks out a wind turbine

Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes checks out a wind turbine

When New Zealand signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement last year, we committed to reducing our contribution to global climate change. Building new fossil fuel power plants will make that harder. We have a wealth of cleaner options available, including nearly 4000 megawatts of already consented renewable generation ready to be built, like windfarms.

Regardless of what you think about this project’s merits or flaws, it is important that people are given an opportunity to have a say. This is a big, expensive project with long term impacts and ordinary people shouldn’t be shut out of the process. That’s why I am asking Nick Smith to call it in.

Let’s put the clean and dirty options for meeting out country’s energy needs on the table and make an informed choice about what types of projects we want to invest in. Let’s do that in a public way, and give people a say.

Click here to add your name to the letter asking the Environment Minister to call in this project

First published in the Waikato Times, 11 October 2016.