Green Party claims critics' conflicts of interest

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 16:20 30/04/2013

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The Green Party says critics of its proposals to regulate the electricity sector should declare any financial relationships they have with industry, claiming many are "in the pockets" of power companies.

In response to a press release from the University of Canterbury's Dr Allan Miller, which was critical of the plans announced by Labour and the Greens recently, the Green Party contacted media noting links with Meridian Energy and Mighty River Power.

Miller is the director of the Electrical Power Engineering Centre (EPECentre), whose premium funders include Meridian and Mighty River, state-owned power companies which are slated for sale.

While Miller's release said he believed that generators had too much power over the electricity market, it was largely critical of the Opposition's plans.

Earlier this month Labour and the Greens proposed establishing a state agency to buy power on behalf of customers, which they claimed could save up to $750 million on power bills. The proposals would pay generators based on operating costs and a "fair" return on capital.

Miller said the plan would hurt investment in New Zealand.

"It makes New Zealand look like an unstable country and less desirable to invest in. Companies who invest here require some certainty over electricity price and reliability and this promotes neither," Miller said.

He added that it would be better to alter the existing market rather than "embark on another huge and expensive change and one that is highly experimental".

The release noted funding Miller had received from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment funding to investigate renewable energy and smart grids, but not the funding of the EPECentre.

A Green Party spokesman said this amounted to an "undeclared financial conflict of interest", and that there were other examples of those criticising the plan who were being funded by industry.

"In fact, we're struggling to find one who isn't in the electricity companies' pockets or doesn't stand to make money from the sale of Mighty River Power."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Miller should have made the links clear in the release.

"If he or his research has been funded by Mighty River then he needs to declare that ... when he's making comments about issues relating to that," she said.

"A number of the people who have criticised the proposal for NZ Power have some kind of interest in the Mighty River float. That does call into question the reasons for criticising the proposal. For the public to have legitimate information about the pros and cons of the proposal they need to know the full story."

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Turei disputed any comparison to the work completed by Wellington-based economics think tank Berl, which after being contracted by the Labour Party to evaluate the policy concluded the electricity proposals would lead to the creation of 5000 jobs.

Berl has previously been contracted by the Greens to do research against the case for asset sales, and evaluating its proposals to create hundreds of thousands of green jobs.

The research was criticised by economists at First NZ Capital, because it failed to mention whether the NZ Power proposals would lead to a loss of investor confidence in New Zealand.

But Turei denied the situation was akin to that faced by Miller.

"The fact that they [Berl] have a financial relationship with the parties is completely transparent."

Neither Miller nor the University of Canterbury have responded to requests for comment.

- Stuff

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