Bay of Plenty Regional Council works to ensure the integrated and sustainable management of the region’s geothermal systems, balancing the use of geothermal while keeping its values safe for future generations.

We are now reviewing all geothermal provisions in the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan. It deals with the Rotorua Geothermal System and the Regional Natural Resources Plan, which contains all of the policies for the other geothermal systems in the region.

We intend to include and combine the provisions of the Rotorua Regional Plan into the Natural Resources Plan.

Policies for the Tauranga Geothermal System is being addressed through the Essential Freshwater Programme, and associated plan changes.

Regional Plan Change

The RMA requires Council to review its regional plans on a regular basis and sets out a formal Plan Change process for this to happen. Our starting point is checking what we know – what the Regional Policy Statement tells us to do, where the current plan is working and where it is not, and what our community is telling us. 

The review of the regional plans will be part of a formal Resource Management Act process. The broad steps include:

  • Reviewing and monitoring the effectiveness of current planning provisions under section 35(2)(b) of the RMA. See the following documents for the results of this review.
  • Reviewing our understanding of the resource (e.g. research, monitoring and modelling). We monitor the state of the environment, including specific geothermal monitoring in some places (e.g. surface feature and geothermal reservoir monitoring in Rotorua).
  • Identifying the community's values through community engagement. Engagement with the community throughout the plan review process is crucial. At all key stages of the plan review, we have been and will be working closely with Māori and holding targeted workshops with stakeholders and interest groups. This approach will vary between different systems.
  • Developing system management plans (a whole system approach) to inform policy. The Regional Policy Statement requires system management plans for some geothermal systems including Kawerau, Tauranga and Rotorua. The system management plans will guide the policies in our Regional Plans.
  • Weighing up different management options and their costs and benefits.

From this work we will develop informal draft plan provisions for feedback from the community, before a formal plan change is publicly notified for submissions under the Act.

Progress to date

The geothermal plan change process will cover all geothermal systems, and we are doing region wide work to get this underway.

However our current focus and most of our work so far is on the Rotorua System, and the development of the Rotorua System Management Plan. 

This summary gives an overview of some of the work that has been done so far for the Rotorua System.

Engagement

We began our engagement on the geothermal plan change in the Rotorua area in 2018 and extensive tangata whenua engagement has been undertaken already, including nine hui and additional targeted hui with iwi authorities.

For the Rotorua System Te Ahi Kaa roa working Group, with tangata whenua representatives from Ōhinemutu, Ngapuna, Kuirau/Tarewa and Whakarearewa, has also been established to ensure the voice of these communities is heard through the plan change process. This roopu (group) has been meeting regularly since 2019 providing input into the plan review process, helping with the development of the issues and options discussion documents for the Rotorua geothermal system and more recently preparing the report Ngā wai ariki o Rotorua: He Kohikohinga, which focusses on Hau Kāinga perspectives on the health and wellbeing of geothermal taonga within Rotorua.

In September and October 2019, we met with Māori  and with key stakeholders and interest groups to share information about the state of the Rotorua geothermal system and to discuss and gather feedback on issues, objectives and policy options identified in:

Key themes we heard from the community were:

  • Protection of geothermal taonga
  • Questions about how certain the science informing the plan change can be
  • Efficiency, use and innovation should be a focus
  • Incorporation of Mātauranga Māori principles in all aspects of management a priority
  • Consenting and process barriers need to be addressed
  • Governance and ownership an unresolved issue
  • Bringing the community together to listen to differing views is important

We have also had early targeted hui with Māori for some other, but not all, geothermal systems. 

Understanding the health of our geothermal systems

The Bay of Plenty Geothermal Systems – The Science Story reports inform the regional plan change process and describe the Bay of Plenty Geothermal Systems, current uses, and the current scientific knowledge of the geology, geophysics and chemistry.

We monitor the Rotorua System closely so have more detailed information. These documents are a summary of the current health and trends for the geothermal aquifer, surface geothermal features, and current use of the system:

In addition some of the key milestones achieved in support of the geothermal plan change are:

  • Improved data on how much geothermal is actually being used in Rotorua and Tauranga
  • Rotorua reservoir model has been reviewed and updated with current data, with scenarios underway to test allocation limits and reservoir pressures
  • Long term trends analysis in the Rotorua system reservoir conditions completed.
  • Development of options for improved efficiency in Rotorua. Comparison of the effects of different production systems in Rotorua
  • Geothermal State of the Environment Monitoring Programme reviewed and a draft monitoring strategy in development.
  • Surface feature monitoring programme extended outside of the Rotorua system to include Tikitere

Next Steps

We are seeking to work with Maori, key stakeholders and the community to develop and draft the system management plan for Rotorua by early 2022. We will then begin region wide engagement for other geothermal systems, to develop policies for geothermal to be included in a Draft regional plan.

Resource Management reform timeframes are currently scheduled for completion at the end of 2022.