Report pours cold water on govt renewable energy initiative

The Government’s National Policy Statement on Renewable Energy Generation has been slammed as ineffective by an official report.

Ten years ago, the previous Government began work on developing a National Policy Statement (NPS) on Renewable Energy Generation (REG). The idea was to provide guidance to help regional councils streamline their consenting processes for renewable energy projects, and to give more weight to the benefits of renewable energy.

The point of an NPS is to help local councils interpret the Resource Management Act, which is sometimes very complicated. We also have NPS for other complex things like freshwater management and urban development.

The NPS-REG came into effect in 2011. The Government has just reviewed it to see how it’s been working and the conclusions are worrying:

The NPS-REG does not appear to have resulted in noticeably more certainty for resource consent applicants for REG projects. The NPS-REG has not resulted in nationally consistent approaches to the drafting of regional and district plans, nor does it have any significant impact on the time and costs associated with obtaining resource consents for REG projects.

Unfortunately, the review by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment found that the Renewable Energy NPS hasn’t really done what it’s supposed to do.

The review says the NPS has helped councils with consenting for small renewable energy projects much more than it has for bigger projects, but it’s the bigger projects that could have a much more significant positive effect on pollution and climate change. The bigger projects are also the ones councils might need more help with – you can imagine that a small windmill to power a shed down the back of a farm somewhere is much easier to consent than a big windfarm of dozens of windmills.

It also found that “key areas of contention (eg, noise and visual effects) do not appear to be handled differently because of the NPS-REG.” Put simply, the NPS hasn’t helped fix the key hurdles that are faced with new renewable energy projects, which have sunk important wind energy projects like at Blueskin Bay.

Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes at Meridian’s West Wind farm

Meanwhile, we’ve seen the fossil fuel sector gain confidence, building a new gas power plant in Taranaki, planning another one in South Waikato, and backtracking on Genesis Energy’s proposal to stop burning coal at Huntly.

This is a real shame. I believe New Zealand can do much better when it comes to renewable energy. Just because we already generate a lot of our electricity from renewable sources doesn’t mean we should stop trying to generate more.

The government’s approach to energy – burn more coal.

It’s a pity that after all the work that went into the NPS, it hasn’t done anything. I hope the new energy minister, Judith Collins, sees this NPS review as a wake-up call and takes steps to fix the problems identified.

Unfortunately, a few years ago Collins wrote in the Sunday Star Times that “oil in New Zealand is big and can get a lot bigger” and “the future for New Zealand oil is huge.” She’s clearly a friend of the fossil fuel industry, and that’s bad news for climate change and air pollution.

We should aspire for 100% renewable electricity generation in New Zealand. We’re going to need better regulations, and probably a new energy minister, if we’re going to get there.