Paying the Price for Slow Progress

Dr Matthew Birchall
Insights Newsletter
31 March, 2023

New Zealand’s resource management system is a contradictory mess.

At least, that is the impression you get reading a recent report commissioned by the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission on the cost of climate consenting.

Prepared by Sapere Research Group, Infrastructure Consenting for Climate Targets looks at changes to energy and transport infrastructure that may be necessary to reach net zero.

If New Zealand is to hit its climate targets, then, by 2028, infrastructure resource consents must be processed 50% more efficiently. Otherwise, it is “highly unlikely” that the necessary low emissions projects will be completed.

So much for sustainable development.

To many, it will be no surprise that getting a resource consent can be a long and cumbersome process. Over the past eight years alone, consent times have risen by 150 percent. Long lead times mean that many worthwhile projects never get started.

Obtaining resource consents can also be very expensive.

Consenting costs in New Zealand account for 5.5% of the total costs of an average infrastructure project. The costs are higher for smaller projects worth less than $200,000, averaging 16% of the project’s costs.

While this system may benefit consultants, there has been little consideration of how slow consents may impact climate policy.

Sapere’s report suggests that New Zealand could miss 11-15 percent of emissions reductions required from the energy and transport sectors because of consenting delays.

To take a concrete example, a wind farm that currently takes 2 years to get resource consent would take around 12 years in 2050.

That delay comes with a cost. Sapere estimates New Zealand’s emissions liability to be between $5 billion and $7 billion by 2050.

Unfortunately, proposed resource management reforms seem likely to make things worse. Grenville Gaskell, the chief executive of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, told Parliament’s environment select committee in February that the “unknowns around environmental limits” would slow down the consenting process for renewable energy.

He added that his members were “concerned they won’t be able to re-consent or develop new renewable electricity generation at sufficient scale to meet the decarbonisation targets” required of them.

At the very moment when New Zealand must increase its generation capacity, the government is rushing through reforms that are only likely to lead to more litigation, further delay timelines and increase costs.

A better approach would be to simplify New Zealand’s resource consenting process. That way, we could build the things we need. 

Stay in the loop: Subscribe to updates