Analysis: Two weeks after the National Party revealed a policy to speed up the consenting of wind and solar farms, the Government has debuted its own, similar resource management re-workings.
Both propose to amend the National Policy Statements on Renewable Electricity Generation (NPS-REG) and Electricity Transmission (NPS-ET), but that’s where the similarities end.
National said it would ensure new consents and re-consenting decisions come through in no more than a year. It would also extend the length of those consents, to 35 years, to give generators more certainty they will still have permission to build when the time is right.
The Government has gone in a different direction, upgrading the priority of renewable generation in the careful resource management balancing act between speedy development, protected environment and cultural values.
This will mean wind farms can’t be spuriously blocked because of their impact on the view of a scenic landscape or because the environmental impact can’t be 100 percent mitigated. It will open up a lot more land for new renewable projects, if the generators want to build.
Environment Minister David Parker said these changes wouldn’t speed up the consenting process.
“We’ve [separately] taken years off how long it takes to consent a wind farm or a solar farm, through mainly the fast-track [consenting process]. What we’re doing through this is going further and saying, well, we think the areas in which you need to be able to build wind farms and solar farms need to be expanded,” he said
“The bigger point here is we don’t just need to speed up the individual applications, we need a lot more of them being applied for and granted and so this is trying to make it easier for them to get a consent.”
Two policies aimed at solving the same overall problem – making it easier to build out the many gigawatts of renewable generation we need to decarbonise our economy – have diagnosed the causes of that problem as two different maladies.
For National, it is the sluggishness and uncertainty of the consent process. It takes seven years to get a wind farm consented, infrastructure spokesperson Chris Bishop says, and then that consent needs to be reauthorised just a decade later.
There’s certainly some truth to that and National’s policy was developed in close consultation with electricity generators.
But the Government thinks there’s another obstacle here – the generators themselves.
Energy Minister Megan Woods will point to the long list of consented wind farms yet to be built and say the issue is generators’ own building intentions. That could be a market issue, or it could be a sign that generators are consenting development just to stop competitors from building in those spots.
A 35-year consent timeframe, as National has proposed, would only worsen that problem, the Government would argue.
That’s why they’re considering going the other way. Buried deep in the 132-page consultation document on the Government’s policy released on Thursday morning is a suggestion to potentially shorten consent durations.
“Use it or lose it” is the slogan – and consents that aren’t implemented would lapse more quickly. The specifics haven’t been developed because this part of the policy is in the very early stages. The document is mostly seeking “initial feedback”, but offers up lapse periods of three, five, seven and 10 or more years as examples.
The generators’ response to the Government’s proposals, including this potential “use it or lose it” provision, will be illuminating. While Labour and National disagree on what’s blocking new development, the generators are of course more attuned to the issue than either.
It’s possible that both have a point – a quicker pathway to consents and a wider land area that can be consented sounds like a compromise that would boost the construction of new wind and solar farms.
Of course, if the issue is a broken market, then the generators may not be quick to say so. After all, the “use it or lose it” idea came from the Electricity Authority, which said it would be useful in keeping up competition in a fully renewable electricity sector.
So while the generators do want to build more clean energy and have the expertise to diagnose most of the problem, take it with a grain of salt if they insist there’s no need to work on competition.