First EPA request referred to board of inquiry

  • Nick Smith

Environment Minister Nick Smith today announced that he has referred Contact Energy's proposal for a geothermal power station in the Tauhara steam field near Taupo to an independent Board of Inquiry. 

"I have reviewed Contact Energy's application and the recommendations from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and have decided to direct the application - the first submitted directly to the Government's new EPA - to an independent Board of Inquiry for consideration," Dr Smith said.

"A board of inquiry, chaired by an Environment Court Judge, is the most appropriate way to deal with this nationally significant geothermal power station proposal. At 240MW the Tauhara II geothermal station would be able to provide power to all homes in a region the size of greater Wellington.

"Changes the Government made to streamline the Resource Management Act last year mean Contact Energy's application was able to be made directly to the EPA and did not require call in from a regional or territorial authority. It means a decision on this application must be made within nine months of public notification. Appeal rights are also limited as the Government's objective is to do these major projects once and do them properly without years of litigation."

The members of the Board of Inquiry that will decide on the proposed Tauhara II Geothermal Development Project are: Environment Judge Gordon Whiting (chairman), Dr Patrick Browne (geothermal science expert), Brian White (geothermal engineering expert), Glenice Paine (Tikanga Maori expert) and Jenni Vernon (RMA expert with local knowledge).

"The board members have the right mix of skills to hear this application and I am confident this process will result in a robust and timely decision," Dr Smith said.

 "This Government is keen to encourage development of renewable energy, reversing the declining trend of the last decade. Changes to the RMA and the establishment of the EPA are part of that strategy as well as advancing a National Policy Statement on Renewable Electricity to facilitate viable developments."

Information about the application, the board of inquiry, and how to make a submission can be found at

Biographies of Board of Inquiry members

Judge Gordon Whiting (Chairman Judge Whiting was admitted to the bar in 1968 and is experienced in resource management law. He has been a District Court and an Environment Court Judge since 1997. As an Environment Court Judge he has presided over many resource management cases, including applications for geothermal developments. Judge Whiting chaired the board of inquiry that decided on the called-in Te Mihi Geothermal Power Development.  Judge Whiting's appointment to the Board was recommended by both Environment Waikato and Taupo District Council.

Dr Patrick Browne is a geologist and geochemist specialising in geothermal fields.  He is an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Earth Sciences and Engineering at Auckland University.  He was a hearings commissioner for geothermal consent applications in 2004 (from Contact Energy and Geothermal). He is on a peer review panel for two regional councils with respect to the Rotokawa and Kawerau geothermal fields.  He was also a member of the board of inquiry for the Te Mihi Geothermal Power Development.  Dr Browne will bring a technical understanding of geothermal systems and geothermal field development to the Board.

Brian White is an engineer with extensive experience in the field of geothermal power, including geothermal developments, feasibility studies related to geothermal electricity, and consenting of geothermal power stations. He is the Commercial Development Manager of East Harbour Management Services Ltd.  He is the Executive Officer of the New Zealand Geothermal Association and a Member of IPENZ and the International Geothermal Association.  Mr White will bring an understanding of the engineering of geothermal systems and geothermal field development to the Board.

Glenice Paine is of Te Atiawa and Ngai Tahu descent. She has RMA experience serving as Te Atiawa's Resource Management Officer. She was appointed in 2006 as a member of the special tribunal to consider an application to amend the Buller Water Conservation Order. She was appointed to Nga Kahiautu Tikanga Taioa (Maori Advisory Committee to the Environmental Risk Management Authority) in 2003 and was reappointed for a further term in 2006. She was also a member of the board of inquiry for the Te Mihi Geothermal Power Development. She is accredited under the RMA Making Good Decisions programme.  Ms Paine will bring a strong understanding of tikanga Maori, community and conservation values to the Board, together with understanding of geothermal power development gained from her sitting on the Te Mihi board of inquiry.

Jenni Vernon is an experienced resource management facilitator and hearings commissioner.  She lives in Ngaruawahia in the Waikato.  She is accredited under the RMA Making Good Decisions programme. She was an Environment Waikato Councillor from 1995-2007, and was Chair of the Council from 2004-2007.  From 2008 to this year she was a ministerial appointee to the board of inquiry for the National Policy Statement for NZ Freshwater Management.  She was a member of Environment Waikato hearings panel on the Geothermal Variation to the Regional Policy Statement and the Regional Plan.  She has heard many applications for resource consent including for the renewal of the Huntly Power Station and for the renewal of the Contact Energy Ohaaki Power Station.  She holds a Masters in Management Studies (Economics and Environment) (Hons) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Environmental Law and Management.  Ms Vernon will bring an understanding of the RMA and resource management, together with local knowledge.