South Waikato District Plan

14 Special Purpose Zones

14.2-SPZ-ELG  Electricity Generation


The district contains hydroelectric power generating infrastructure that is of national significance to New Zealand’s economy and prosperity. The Waikato River running through the district has five hydroelectric power generating facilities located at Arapuni, Waipapa, Maraetai, Whakamaru and Atiamuri. These facilities represent a large financial investment and require a high level of operational certainty for their ongoing viability. Their original establishment involved a significant loss of natural areas and cultural sites due to the new water levels that were established.


The Waikato River forms part of the district boundary, with these hydro dams straddling the boundary with the Waipā District, Ōtorohanga District and Taupō District. Whilst the provisions of the South Waikato District Plan can only relate to land and water within the district (see also Section 12.2 Activities on the Surface of the Water) a high level of consistency of district plan provisions with adjoining districts is desirable to ensure efficient and effective functioning of the hydro system. 

Each hydroelectricity power station, hydro dam, associated facilities such as spillways, switchyards and transmission lines and structures, and the surrounding land, are known as electricity generation core sites. These core sites are covered by the Special Purpose Zone - Electricity Generation. It is intended that the zone will provide operational certainty for the generation of electricity in a manner consistent with the NPS for Renewable Electricity Generation 2011.  

The zone provisions seek to enable the existing hydroelectric power generating activities to continue operating, with allowance made for necessary maintenance, repair and upgrading activities, while avoiding, remedying or mitigating any additional significant adverse effects on the environment. Provision has also been made for various temporary activities that are undertaken within core sites that may involve the use of heavy machinery such as drilling rigs and cranes. Visitor facilities related to the hydro operations are also a possibility.

The core sites are effectively industrial sites in and adjoining the Waikato River. The sites have had an important role in shaping the present-day significant cultural, landscape, recreational and natural values that are found along the river corridor. The core sites are also located within rural environments with different levels of amenity values and character. The avoidance of reverse sensitivity effects is an important aspect to the ongoing operation of the hydroelectric power generating activities within the core sites. Within the GRUZ and RLZ provisions, there are restrictions on the proximity of residential units to the operating easements so as not to restrict the operational capacity and availability of the hydroelectricity resource. 

There are three heritage items that are listed in the South Waikato Heritage Inventory located within the SPZ-ELG at Arapuni. These are the Arapuni Suspension Bridge, the Arapuni Powerhouse, and the Arapuni Dam. All were built in the 1920s and represent a significant aspect of New Zealand’s engineering history. There is also heritage within the core sites that is not related to the hydro scheme itself. Maintaining these heritage items within the context of an operating hydro electricity generation site is important. 

Standards aim to facilitate the existing activities within the electricity generation core sites while ensuring that any new or additional potential significant adverse environmental effects arising from the hydroelectric power generating activities are able to be avoided, remedied or mitigated. 



To ensure that the new development in the District has regard to improving energy efficiency and to enable production of energy from renewable resources, provided their development promotes the sustainable management of the District’s natural and physical resources.


To recognise and provide for the national, regional, and local benefits of a sustainable, secure, and efficient electricity transmission and distribution network, radiocommunication and telecommunication facilities including broadband, and renewable electricity generation activities.


To ensure that the development, operation, maintenance, repair and upgrading of the components that comprise the Waikato hydro scheme, are recognised and provided for.


To recognise and provide for the exploration, development and use of geothermal, wind and hydro resources, for the purpose of renewable electricity generation in a manner that avoids, remedies or mitigates adverse effects on the environment and also takes into account cultural impacts.



Enable the efficient operation, maintenance, and upgrading of the electricity transmission and distribution networks and the existing renewable electricity generating infrastructure and related activities in a manner that avoids, remedies, or mitigates additional adverse effects on the environments.


Enable the exploration, development, construction, and operation of new renewable energy sources and generation activities (including ancillary activities) in a manner that avoids, remedies, or mitigates adverse effects on the environment.


Recognise and have regard to:

(a) The maintenance and protection of existing renewable electricity generation activities

(b) The practical, logistical or technical constraints associated with the location, logistics and operation of new and existing renewable electricity generation activities

(c) The opportunity for environmental offsetting and compensation measures to be considered in instances where adverse environmental effects from new renewable electricity generation activities cannot be avoided, remedied or mitigated.

(d) Adaptive management measures. 


Ensure that new subdivision, land-uses and development in close proximity to electricity generation core sites are compatible with the use and operation of such sites by specifying appropriate environmental standards.


Allow new electricity transmission and distribution lines and telecommunications lines to only traverse areas identified as Outstanding Natural Landscapes, and Significant Natural Areas, where the infrastructure is subject to a significant functional constraint, or where there is no feasible alternative route and/or when significant adverse effects are outweighed by the overall benefits of the proposal.


Recognise existing electricity lines within Outstanding Natural Landscapes, and Significant Natural Areas, and provide for their operational, maintenance, and upgrading requirements.


Enable the efficient operation and development of the District’s hydro-electric power stations along the Waikato River, in a manner that will avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects on the environment from activities associated with the operation, maintenance, and upgrading of these sites.


SPZ-ELG-R1 PER Activities

Subject to

(1) Subject to ECO-R1 to R5 and NFL-R1 to NFL-R6, operation, maintenance, repair, replacement, demolition or upgrading of existing hydroelectric power generating and National Grid infrastructure, including any associated structures, earthworks, vegetation clearance and access roads or tracks

(a) SPZ-ELG-R4 (1)-(3) and

(b) SPZ-ELG- R5 where relevant

(2) Ancillary buildings, offices, structures, staff residences, and switch yards associated with hydro electricity generation

(3) Temporary works and associated structures related to electricity generation

(4) New electricity transmission and distribution lines

(5) Visitor facilities associated with energy generation

(6) Recreation and sporting activities on parks and reserves

(7) Carparks

(8) Pastoral Farming

(9) Forestry

SPZ-ELG-R2 RDIS Activities

Subject to

(1) Any PER activity that does not conform to the Standards in SPZ-ELG-R6

(a) SPZ-ELG- R5 where relevant

Matters of discretion

(a) AA-R3(1)

(b) AA-R3(2)

SPZ-ELG-R3 DIS Activities

Subject to

(1) Activities that are not PER, CON, RDIS, or NC will be DISC in the SPZ-ELG

(a) SPZ-ELG- R5 where relevant

Matters of discretion

(a) AA-R4

(b) SPZ-ELG-R4 used as a guide


SPZ-ELG-R4 Standards 

The following Standards apply to all activities specified in SPZ-ELG-R1 (PER Activities), and to RDIS activities in the zone if granted. 

(1) Building Setback

(a) Buildings must be setback 15m from all zone boundaries, except where these follow territorial authority boundaries

(b) There is no building setback required from legal boundaries or from roads within the SPZ-ELG

(2) Building Height

Maximum height - 20m, with the exception that the maximum height is unrestricted for:

(a) Temporary drill rigs or other temporary structures, provided the structure is removed within 60 days

(b) Hydro dams and associated penstocks, provided the overall height does not exceed the elevation of the existing dam crest (excluding ancillary buildings and structures on the dam)

(c) Powerhouses – provided the overall height does not exceed the elevation of the existing powerhouse.

(d) Spillway and diversion channel/tunnel structures – provided the overall height does not exceed the elevation of the existing spillway or diversion channel/tunnel structures.  

(e) Parts of buildings that may protrude through the height control lines are chimneys, flues and similar projections, television, and telecommunication aerials and dishes, rainwater tanks, domestic scale renewable energy devices, and in addition on commercial and industrial buildings, lift machinery, air-conditioning and heating plants; all attached to the building and projecting not more than 3m above the building height standard for the zone, and less than 4m2 in area.

(3) Landscape Values

Activities involving works within outstanding natural landscapes, outstanding natural features or significant amenity landscapes as shown on the planning maps, shall also comply with the standards in NFL-R5. In the event of a conflict between standards in Section 14.2 SPZ-ELGZ and Section 10.3 NFL the more onerous provisions will apply.

SPZ-ELG-R5- Other Plan Matters

The following may also be relevant:

(1) Section 7.1 Energy, 7.2 Infrastructure, 7.3 Transportation

(2) Section 8.1 Contaminated Land, 8.2 Hazardous Substances, 8.3 Natural Hazards

(3) Section 9.1 Historic Heritage

(4) Section 10.2 Natural Character, 10.3 Natural Features and Landscapes

(5) Chapter 11 Subdivision       

(6) Section 12.1 All Activities

(7) Section 12.2 Activities on the Surface of Water, 12.3 Air Emissions, 12.4 Earthworks, 12.6 Light,12.7 Noise, 12.8 Signs, 12.9 Temporary Activities

(8) Part 3- Any relevant overlay

SPZ-ELG- Principal Reasons


Functional and efficient infrastructure cannot be achieved only through RMA methods and needs to be furthered through a variety of works undertaken by Council and other utility providers. The importance of local and national economy of infrastructure, the key industrial sites in the district, and communications means that if their maintenance and upgrading is not safeguarded under the district plan, there could be significant community impacts. Likewise, the district needs to play its part in the national (and international) imperative to improve energy efficiency, generate more energy from renewable sources and respond to future climate change.

SPZ-ELG- Anticipated Environmental Results


Efficient operation of the existing hydroelectric power generating infrastructure along the Waikato River, including provision for ongoing maintenance, repair and upgrading


New or additional potentially significant adverse environmental effects arising from hydroelectric power generating activities within the core sites are effectively avoided, remedied or mitigated


The level of renewable electricity generation in the district and its contribution to the national target for renewable electricity generation is maintained or increased