31 Mar 2023

Luxon takes aim at red tape in ambitious plan to boost renewable energy production

1:25 pm on 31 March 2023
National Party Leader Christopher Luxon

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The National Party says its new renewable energy policy will double the amount of electricity produced from solar, wind and geothermal plants.

Leader Christopher Luxon has announced plans to change resource consent rules to get renewable energy generation built faster.

Christopher Luxon announces National's renewable energy policy

Christopher Luxon announces the policy at the Chapter Zero Climate Forum in Auckland this morning. Photo: RNZ / Felix Walton

He said National will remove the red tape holding the country back from reaching its climate change targets.

Luxon said New Zealanders should still be able to drive cars, heat their homes, and help grow the economy but the country needed to power all its activities with clean energy drawing on rain, wind, sun or geothermal.

He said 70 percent of the emissions that come from transport and energy could be switched from fossil fuels and into electricity powered by renewables like wind, sun and geothermal.

"The technology already exists, and it's getting better all the time.

"The scale of the opportunity is staggering. A large-scale electrification of New Zealand's economy could reduce annual emissions by up to 22 million tonnes by 2050 which gets us almost a third of the way to reaching our target of net carbon zero emissions."

However, the reality was the country did not produce enough renewable energy at present for a large-scale transition to clean power.

A lot more wind and solar farms would be needed, he said, however, the planning system was putting lengthy barriers in the way while consent costs had also increased by a staggering margin.

"This is unsustainable and utterly unacceptable because New Zealand will frankly not be able to electrify its economy if compliance for every big energy investment lasts the best part of a decade.

"National will remove the obstacles that are holding back investment and growth, and jeopardising our goal of achieving our climate change targets."

Its plan rested on two components: The Electrify New Zealand policy will require resource consent decisions to be issued in one year and consents to last for 35 years.

It will also remove the need for consents for upgrading existing lines infrastructure, and building most new lines infrastructure.

"We're confident these changes will make it much easier to get a renewable project consented and importantly unleash the $30 billion investment the private sector wants to make in renewables over the next 25 years."

'We are the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy' - Bishop

Infrastructure spokesperson Chris Bishop told Morning Report electricity companies wanted to invest, but they were being held up by the lengthy planning and consent process.

"We're going to slash the red tape that's making it way too difficult to build renewable energy in New Zealand."

The Resource Management Act was a huge barrier to building more wind farms, more geothermal, more hydro and more solar.

Consent costs had increased by 140 percent in the last decade, Bishop said.

It was common to hear of instances where it took eight years to get consent for a project such as a wind farm and two years to build it.

Companies would still need to get resource consent, which would also mean people who objected to a project would not face such a lengthy process to express their concerns.

National party COVID-19 Response Spokesperson Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Transpower estimated electricity demand would increase by 70 percent by 2050 so demand existed and the economy could be transitioned to low emission clean energy.

"That's the way of the future; that's the lowest cost form electricity we can invest in and grow the economy while doing so, an amazing opportunity.

"We are the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy and so we need to take advantage of that."

When the lakes were dry and there was an absence of sun and wind, new technologies would help along with the backup of gas.

"We want to double renewable electricity production in this economy and in this country ... let's take advantage of all the geothermal and solar resources that we have."

It would be a boon for both transport and big industrial users such as Fonterra.

Labour was showing "a poverty of ambition" on the issue, Bishop said. Its exploration of the Onslow battery scheme was "solving last year's problem" which would raise electricity prices and was not needed.

It was making generators nervous about investing because the government might use $16 billion of taxpayers' money to build a power station in the wrong part of the country.

"Onslow is one of the things holding us back at the moment. The government should dump it and just unleash the planning system."

'Late to the party, light on detail' - Hipkins

Hipkins said he had not seen the detail of National's policy yet, but said the party's interest in renewable energy was a "welcome development".

"It's about time the National Party discovered electricity and renewable energy actually exists, because up until now they seem to have mounted all their arguments in favour of continuing the use of fossil fuels," he said.

"New Zealand's got one of the highest uptake rates for electric vehicles in the developed world and that's because of the policies that we've put in place that have been opposed by the opposition."

He said the proposal seemed to target cutting red tape and making it easier to get consents. That was a big part of the RMA reforms - opposed by National - which the government was already working on, he said.

"Ultimately I think the plans from National today seem to be fairly late to the party and seem fairly light on detail."

He argued his government was busy getting on with the job of meeting climate challenges.

"We've actually been getting on with the job of actually doing it, there's more work to be coming very soon around industrial decarbonisation, we've already got significant work rolling out across the public service.

"If you look at the carbon budgets that we've released; decarbonising transport; decarbonising heavy industry are integral to achieving the targets that we've put out there.

"Transport is one of the most complex areas to get into, reducing transport emissions is challenging given that the vehicle fleet that we've got on the road right now is likely to stay on the road for some time. people don't tend to replace their cars every year."

Greenpeace impressed

Greenpeace New Zealand has congratulated the National Party on its new renewable energy policy.

But executive director Russel Norman urged National to abandon its oil exploration policy, which he said ran counter to its sustainable energy plans.

Dr Norman said the so-called Electrify NZ policy was a good step forward, and he hoped National's yet-to-be announced agriculture policy would be similar.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs