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Published: 2004-05-27 00:00:00

Changes to Environment Waikato’s Regional Policy Statement and Plan on geothermal resources will achieve a rational and robust balance between competing Government objectives and local effects, Environment Waikato Councillors heard today.

The Council has aligned its geothermal policies in the Regional Policy Statement and Waikato Regional Plan, focusing the proposed Regional Plan on enabling use of geothermal resources while protecting surface geothermal features, clarifying the issues involved and focusing on the future of geothermal resources.

Hearing Committee Chairman Cr Angus Macdonald said the issues and changes had been thoroughly considered and made in a timely fashion.

“We had the added complication of a law change in the middle of the hearings process with the passing of the Resource Management (Energy and Climate Change) Amendment Act. This law change deemed geothermal energy to be renewable and required us to consider the benefits gained from its use and development and the efficiency of the end use.”

The process took only nine months, including the Christmas break. The Committee heard from 62 people representing 28 parties, for 15 days over two and half months. It then sat for a further six days in deliberation.

“The rapid process of these two documents was described in evidence to the Committee as being without precedent, yet it is an example of what can be achieved when all members of the team, staff advisors and decision-makers work together for a single purpose.”

He said the Committee was advised from all perspectives on what its job was and how it should be doing it.

“The submissions and evidence from Central Government clearly reflected the different views we faced, with one Ministry wanting systems to be available for rapid development and another Department wanting to protect all remaining surface features,” Cr Macdonald said.

“When it comes to geothermal management Central Government was not able to come up with a clear view of the national interest. With these plans I am confident we have.”

He said the Committee was determined to combine competing interests for access to underground energy and the desire to protect the remaining surface features. Both aspirations were legitimate and both could be provided for by dividing the Regional resource into systems for differing uses.

“The systems are difficult and expensive to understand so we should apply the precautionary approach when we don’t have enough information. Large-scale use should be sustainable and the interests of future generations provided for by using a social rather than a financial discount rate for developments.

The review says that large scale users should fix any subsidence and land instability problems they cause, and taken fluid should be returned to the system it came from unless there are good reasons not to.
“We have already lost a lot of significant surface features. There is no need for non-geothermal developments such as roading or subdivisions to destroy spectacular surface features in the future, given that they can be re-designed or relocated.”

Cr Macdonald said the decision to replace the geothermal chapters of both Plans brought opportunities as well as challenges.

“This is the first time a Regional Policy Statement and a Regional Plan have been changed together in a parallel process. They will go a long way to ensure effective and efficient management through consistency and easier implementation,” he said.

What The Changes Mean:
The policies provide a balance between using the energy and preserving surface features.

  • Energy in ‘Development’ systems is to be made available for use by future generations. A precautionary approach is to be made to management and staged development for large projects.
  • Surface features ranked for significance on their vulnerability to extraction.
  • In all systems, land uses and use of non-geothermal water is not to affect geothermal features and the rules favour use of the energy where it is, rather than taking fluid.
  • ‘Development’ systems are available for large scale uses with a single operator and a strong preference for reinjection of fluid.
  • ‘Limited Development’ systems should avoid effects on significant features and other land uses and takes and discharges are limited to less than 10,000 tonnes a day.
  • ‘Research’ systems are those where there is insufficient information available and they are limited to medium sized takes and discharges of 2000 tonnes aday.
  • ‘Protected’ systems are to be managed to protect surface features with only small uses permitted.
  • ‘Small’ systems are similar to limited development systems with limited takes and discharges.

The decisions will be notified on June 12, with appeals ending on July 28 aiming for a quick resolution of appeals.