This week, the Government announced funding to replace half of the coal energy generated by the Glenbrook Steel mill with electric power, one of a number of projects currently on the books under the Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry (GIDI) fund. The Government will spend $140m on halving the coal used at Glenbrook steel plant to recycle scrap steel, and the plant will contribute $160m to the project’s cost. We’re interested in what this means for planning.

The Glenbrook project involves the installation of an electric powered arc furnace to melt down scrap metal, which is currently sent offshore for recycling. The steel company currently accounts for 2% of New Zealand’s total emissions and it’s proposed that the project will reduce 800,000 tonnes of climate pollution each year.

The electricity to run the furnace will be provided by renewable energy, with the chosen electricity provider contracted to provide this power, primarily through wind, solar and geothermal energy sources. The electricity company has other renewable energy projects in the pipeline, some of which are yet to be consented.

With reform on the horizon and Government announcing this week that the preparation of the National Planning Framework (NPF) is underway, we are very much in a state of transition. The Climate Change Response Act (CCRA), and in particular its Zero Carbon amendment in 2020, is a starting point when considering the role of planning in these big decarbonising initiatives.

Part of the purpose of the 2002 CCRA was to provide a framework by which New Zealand can develop and implement clear and stable climate change policies that:

  • contribute to the global effort under the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels; and
  • allow New Zealand to prepare for, and adapt to, the effects of climate change.

The 2020 amendment to this Act was significant for planning as it allowed councils to consider the effects on climate change of discharges into air of greenhouse gases under the RMA. It also required that any new RMA plans have regard to any Emissions Reduction Plan or National Adaptation Plan prepared under the CCRA. The Government released its Emissions Reduction Plan in May 2022, and its Climate Adaptation Plan in August 2022. The 2020 amendments to the CCRA, changing the RMA, came into effect in November 2022.

The NPS-Urban Development was developed along a similar timeframe as the 2020 amendment Act and includes the following objectives for New Zealand’s urban environments:

(a) support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and

(b) are resilient to the current and future effects of climate change.

The application to renew the Air Discharge consent for the Glenbrook Steel Mill was granted in late 2021, which was prior to the release of these new plans and amendments. This meant that effects on climate change could not be considered. Regardless of what was enabled through the consent, the company has been incentivised to significantly reduce their emissions through social, environmental and economic drivers that fall outside of the previous planning framework.

Another important part of the planning picture will be the proposed changes to the Government’s NPS-Renewable Energy Generation, NPS-Electricity Transmission, NES-Electricity Transmission, and the creation of a new NES- Renewable Energy Generation. These policy changes may impact positively on the ability to achieve consent for future renewable energy projects, which will replace power supply to key industrial operations like Glenbrook. Submissions on these changes close 1 June 2023.

We also await the release of the draft National Planning Framework, after enactment of the Natural and Built Environment Bill. This will give the profession the opportunity to consider where national guidance on renewable energy infrastructure and support for activities that support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is provided in the NPS.