It’s hard to be green in Nelson!

It’s hard to be green in Nelson!

Nelson prides itself on being green. Our local city council has a number of initiatives aimed at promoting sustainability.  They have an “Eco Building Advisor”, giving free information on sustainable building practices. They are really pushing solar water heating, for example by lending the installation cost for certain selected systems and waiving fees for building consents.  But in practice, it’s really expensive to be green in Nelson!

I looked closely at water heating options back in June when we were faced with having to replace our whole water system, pipes and all. Even with that council support and a $1000 subsidy from central government, plus some fairly large hikes in future energy prices, the economics looked decidedly shaky.

A much better option was to reduce our electricity use by installing a heat pump for water heating. A 1kW heat pump can replace a 3.5 kW heater. This option also attracted a $1000 subsidy from central government and we were up for a new $1400 hot water cylinder anyway. So we went ahead. The old hot water cylinder would come out and a new one installed just outside the house, against the wall.

Rather to my surprise, I found that we needed a building consent for the installation, even though the unit was from a well-established firm and was to be installed by a registered plumber. I still wonder why. What’s more, the $400 fee would NOT be waived.  Council staff did put the hours in, however, coming back repeatedly with questions, the answers to which had already been provided. Oh, and I needed to provide a floor plan showing the exact location and type of each of the 6 smoke alarms required in our house before a consent could be granted. Dangerous stuff, this hot water!

Then came the bombshell, almost a couple of months after the application had been submitted. Because our old villa has a “heritage classification” a resource consent would be required under the Resource Management Act. The fee? Only $900!

Now, we love our almost 100 year old villa and totally supported that classification when it was applied a few years back. We have tried hard to “future-proof” the house, to reduce the chances of it being knocked down after we have passed on. But I had not anticipated such silliness from a council purporting to be green!

Some people put a lot of effort into fighting stupid regulations. I decided against it.  A lengthy document was prepared which attempted to establish that the adverse impact of this installation would be close to zero. It pointed out the beneficial impact on electricity use, GHG emissions etc.  The report was accepted and a consent granted. But for some reason I was not impressed. The additional $1300 of council charges have killed the economics of the installation.

I did take the trouble to meet with the CEO of the council to point out this disconnect between stated council aims and the detail in their regulations and I do intend to take this up with the Minister for the Environment (our local MP).  He seems to have been rather busy in away Copenhagen, for some reason.

At the moment the whole sustainability campaign by Nelson looks very much like a PR exercise to gather publicity for our annual sunshine hours (did you know we are “Solar City”?). It was no doubt prompted by Nelson being overtaken by neighbours Blenheim last year in the NZ annual sunshine hours stakes.

The offending item, tucked in between house and retaining wall

As a footnote: during the exercise I discovered that even such a simple thing as a heat pump requires a resource consent (fee $900) if the house has a heritage classification. I’d love to know how many people have gone into a store and bought one, blissfully unaware of that requirement.  Even though Nelson is rather backward in protecting its building heritage, in some parts of town whole streets would be affected.

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