National Leader Christopher Luxon likes to bag the way the Resource Management Act worked.
Though it has been repealed and replaced by the Labour government, Luxon plans, before Christmas, to repeal the new legislation and, for the foreseeable future, revert to the old Act that he has consistently criticised.
To further complicate matters, National wants to make more amendments to the old RMA once they put it back in place.
Luxon’s problem is that at least some of his arguments for this tortuous chain of actions are built on an insubstantial factual base.
“We want to double the amount of renewable, clean electricity in this country,” he told media on Monday.
“That’s partly what we can do is speed up consenting times. It shouldn’t take eight years to consent building a wind farm when it takes two years to build it.”
There were two problems with that argument.
First, somewhere between 80 and 85 per cent of New Zealand’s supplied electricity is currently from renewable sources.
Renewable generation has been slipping in recent weeks as the hydro lakes start to empty, but Transpower said on Tuesday that renewable generation supplied 83 per cent of the power over the previous week.
Ironically, wind generation had a record week both in terms of total generation (112 GWh) and percentage of the mix (13.6%), more than double the week before.
There is some confusion about what is meant by “renewable energy”.
Transpower includes hydro, geothermal and wind in the definition.
Using that definition, the Government has set an aspirational target of 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030.
The Infrastructure Commission told the Select Committee considering the Natural and Built Environments Bill that it could take ten years from developing a business case and finding a site to developing a wind farm.
The consenting process under the Resource Management Act could take up to two years of that — not the eight claimed by Luxon.
But during Covid, Environment Minister David Parker introduced a fast-track consenting process for certain types of activity, which Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has said has reduced the consenting process by around 18 months.
Fast-track consents are overseen by the Environmental Protection Authority rather than local councils.
That fast-track process has now been included in the RMA replacement, the Natural and Built Environments Act.
The Act specifically allows the fast-track process to be used for wind farms.
On August 7, Hipkins announced that three new wind farm projects— in the Manawatū, Waiuku, and Southland — had been approved for fast-track consenting.
“Combined, they would generate about 419 megawatts of electricity at peak output,” he said.
“That’s about the same as New Zealand’s third largest hydroelectric dam, the Clyde Dam.”
Challenged on Monday about his claim that it took eight years to gain a windfarm consent, Luxon said: “It has.”
“Under this government, you have to think about a particular wind farm,” he said.
“It took eight years to consent, two years to build it, ten years to get the benefit of it.”
“When it powers up 100,000 homes. We’ve got to accelerate that.”
But that acceleration has already been passed into law in the Natural and Built Environment Act.
Ironically, when the National repeals it, the fast-track pathway will no longer be available because it was originally contained within a separate piece of legislation, the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020.
That Act was repealed on July 8.
ACT have a subtly different slant on this question to National.
Speaking at last week’s Environmental Defence Society’s political debate, ACT’s environment spokesperson, Simon Court, talked about offshore wind farms.
“Currently, you can’t do offshore wind in New Zealand because this government’s been consulting on a framework for somebody to apply for a permit for five years,” he said.
“They’ve said it’s quite hard. Now we’re going to kick it out for another round of consultation.”
Environment Minister David Parker interjected and said they could use the fast-track process.
But Court said they couldn’t.
“You certainly can’t fast-track offshore wind, Minister.”
Offshore wind consents are matters for the Environmental Protection Authority since, plainly, local governments do not have jurisdiction out to sea.
National’s Environment spokesperson Scott Simpson reiterated his party’s commitment to repealing the Natural and Built Environments Bill before Christmas.
“What comes next is a reinstatement of the existing RMA,” he said.
“Now, we thought that nothing could be worse than the RMA, the existing RMA, or the one that has just been repealed.
“We do think that the replacement, the NBA and the Spatial Planning Act together creates a situation that is actually worse for New Zealanders than what we had before.
Simpson said National didn’t like unelected regional planning committees and a number of new definitions that were contained within the legislation, which he said would probably end up having to go all the way to the Supreme Court.
“So we’re committed to repealing it (the Natural and Built Environments Act and the Spatial Planning Act) before Christmas if we have that opportunity,” he said.
“And then we will revert back to what was the existing RMA, and then we’ll pass some changes to that.
“And then, over the next period of time, we will put our own stamp on a new proposal.”
The former Environment Minister, Nick Smith, speaking at the National Party’s Blue Greens Forum earlier this year, cautioned about this approach.
Now retired from Parliament, Smith said: “My challenge to the national caucus team is this.
“It is my view that it is time the Resource Management Act was replaced, and a lot of work has gone into its replacement.
“It’s not all bad.”
Smith argued that National should do what the Bolger Government did in 1991 with Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s original Resource Management Bill (which the 1984 – 90 Labour Government had introduced but not passed).
National reviewed the legislation, amended it and went on to pass it.
But National forged its resource management policy when it was behind Labour in the polls, and retail politics plainly played a big role in what it decided.
The Environmental Defence Society CEO, Gary Taylor, offered a similar view to Smith when he spoke at the Society’s political debate.
“I think that it’s nuts to think about repealing all that work and starting over.,” he said.
“It’s just nuts. It’s retail politics overcoming common sense, in my humble opinion.”
And it’s retail politics built on a very shaky factual base.