Nats pledge to keep home fires burning

Last updated 10:57 15/08/2008

National has released its energy policy - the second chunky policy announcement this week, following on from the welfare announcement on Monday.

I don't know whether the party takes any notice of blogs or media commentary, but they have certainly concurred with advice dished out by many of us in the commentariat: forget about the secret tapes, roll out the policy, and release background papers - not just a one-page summary.

Both the welfare and energy policies provoked the usual howls of outrage from Labour. On Monday, Social Development Minister Ruth Dyson called National's policy "back to the 90s'' although in fact it was no such thing. National's policy on welfare ten years ago was reactionary compared to the Don-Lite policy released this week.

Likewise, Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen yesterday accused John Key of "gambling your children's future'' on gas and coal in spite of an abundance of renewable energy and said National stood for "no action on climate change, no hope and no vision".

Strong stuff. But does the rhetoric match the reality? You'd think from this level of hyperbole that the Nats had announced plans to build a large nuclear power plant on the North Shore (not a bad idea, some might say) or that Gerry "sexy coal'' Brownlee had vowed to overturn the ban on coal fires in Christchurch homes. 

It's true National has pledged to overturn the ten-year ban on the building of new thermal power stations and promised to take a more "realistic'' approach to calculating the future growth in the nation's energy requirements.

It's difficult to see how this equates to embracing a lump of coal or a petajoule of gas, however, particularly since Labour's so-called moratorium was rapidly developing a distinctly "Clayton's'' feel to it. The ban, in practice, was always more hot air than reality, since the Government slipped so many caveats into it (only applies to baseload, above a certain megawattage, can be overruled in the interests of the nation's energy security or in a crisis) that it was largely meaningless.

Key called it "damaging political symbolism'' yesterday - I'd call it ineffectual political grandstanding. Industry sources have been saying Labour would have been forced to abandon the ban if it won the election anyway, given the current pressure on the national grid.

Labour is also finding it difficult to get its teeth into National's policy because it is also embracing Labour's target to generate 90% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025. The only difference is that National says it won't die in a ditch if it's not achieved.

Granted this is not terribly ambitious or committed, but at least National gets marks for being honest. The bottom line in National's energy policy is that it will be clean and green where it can be - but not at the expense of sacrificing the nation's economic performance or energy security. 

Greenpeace won't like it, but I think National has got the mix about right. As we continue to shiver through the nastiest winter in many a year, I reckon the vast majority of people would far rather the lights stayed on and heaters warm than risk the country blowing a fuse because renewable energy sources let us down.

Labour's climate change aspirations have also been severely dented by a mixture of bad lack, poor planning, the shocking winter, and the grudging acceptance that if it hadn't been for those dirty diesel backup power plants and Huntly burning coal full-tilt we'd have been in the dark by June.

It's all very well talking the talk, as Key said yesterday - it's another thing walking it. And while Labour's fine ambitions are all well and good, the reality is that nothing the Government has yet done has made a blind bit of difference to our emissions levels or is likely to in the near future. In fact the only thing that has reduced our emissions profile recently has been the soaring price of petrol and diesel.

There is an irony in Labour attacking National for being pro-thermal, too, because the Nats are also promising to streamline the consents process under the RMA to get more renewable projects such as wind and hydro through the planning stages more quickly.

The Government seems to be hinging its energy strategy on minister David Parker's "a windmill in every back yard''  dream. The problem with this, politically, at least, is that most Kiwis don't want a windmill in their back yard, and don't want one in their neighbour's yard either.

I'm not trying to sound anti-green technology here. I'd like a clean, green environment as much as the next person. But I do believe the Government is on the wrong side of public opinion with its stance on energy and climate change. I think the public care about security of supply far more than they do about pollution. The simple fact is the cold, damp homes are going to kill people than climate change for many years to come.

Having said that, National's energy policy is conservative and lacking in new ideas. There's nothing about energy efficiency, for example, or suggestions about how we are going to meet the estimated 2% a year increase in demand for electricity. What it has delivered is a short-term, pragmatic policy lacking in vision. But unlike Labour, it is probably a policy in step with current public opinion.   

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Rob   #1   11:16 am Aug 15 2008

Colin

Well written and well balanced I feel National I believe have gazumped Labour on this one. National are pragmatic and will keep the lights on Labour aren't they are Ideologues who are behoven to the Greens. The average Kiwi doesn't like that and would much rather see a practical approach to the whole affair. Yes the Policy is coming out now maybe Labour had wished it wasn't because its well thought out and with good points of difference.

eddie   #2   11:31 am Aug 15 2008

Nice piece Colin....OK Nationals energy policy isn't what the Greens would like (who cares!), but it's still a way to avoid blackouts when the rain falls in the wrong places and not in the Central Otago power lakes....No doubt Labour/Lefties on here will poke holes in this policy, as is their wont, but it's better than 'Do nothing, and keep fingers crossed' philosophy that Labour has had, although I surmise that they probably wanted to do something along the lines of what National will do, but at the expense of losing the Greens vote in the coalition....looks like the Greens will cost Labour this election to a certain extend as Anti-Smacking and 'do nothing' energy policy Labour have had to contend with, just to keep them sweet.

burt   #3   11:34 am Aug 15 2008

While Labour projects future electricity demand based on a stagnating economy falling into recession National powers ahead with plans for growth.

NeillR   #4   11:41 am Aug 15 2008

<i>But unlike Labour, it is probably a policy in step with current public opinion</i> Absoutely, in as far as they appear to be signalling the days of rapacious increases by the electricity generators are over. Labour has been quite happy for supply to remain below demand, resulting in massive hikes in prices which have allowed it to maintain their profligate spending policies.

kp   #5   11:47 am Aug 15 2008

"I reckon the vast majority of people would far rather the lights stayed on and heaters warm than risk the country blowing a fuse because renewable energy sources let us down."

I agree. Burn coal, do whatever, but the lights need to stay on. Maybe nuclear is becoming best greenie option?

Matt   #6   11:55 am Aug 15 2008

"The Government seems to be hinging its energy strategy on minister David Parker’s “a windmill in every back yard” dream. The problem with this, politically, at least, is that most Kiwis don’t want a windmill in their back yard, and don’t want one in their neighbour’s yard either."

You're drawing a long bow there Colin. People have certainly objected to <i>windfarms</i> close to their properties, and there are plenty who like them; that isn't the point. Small domestic windmills are nowhere near as intrusive as their larger cousins. Could you provide a link to the research that supports your assertion that National policy is more in touch with the public mood on this issue? What about solar energy?

Rob   #7   12:05 pm Aug 15 2008

Matt Wind power is fine in moderation but it isn't dependable it lays dormant for 40% of the time. So if your plant is working 40% of the time it will never be the answer to everything or cost effective. May be David Parker wasn't allowed Kites when he was young thus giving him a total predisposition to wind now.

jennifer   #8   12:10 pm Aug 15 2008

Colin, another fine blog that JK could have written himself. I think we can dispense with the job interview. I had a wee look at some of the coverage during the Brownlee beat-up electricity crisis. Remember that? Yes, and the wide coverage of Nick Smith's comments over carbon emissions from generation at the time. I can forgive sloppy journalism, we have little choice in this country, but journalistic amnesia is another thing entirely. I guess Mr Slippery is just too clever for you.

Ken   #9   12:14 pm Aug 15 2008

Given the furore that arises whenever a communications tower is built or about to be built in an urbanized area, it is a given that windmills are not going to be welcomed either, particularly in high density areas. Nationals ideas seem quite pragmatic and in touch with reality unlike some of labours more wishful thinking. The only way we, as a country, can lessen demand is to control population growth, otherwise we have to accept that we are going to consume more resources.

Matt   #10   12:22 pm Aug 15 2008

"...the Nats are also promising to streamline the consents process under the RMA to get more renewable projects such as wind and hydro through the planning stages more quickly."

So on the one hand National are "in step with current public opinion", which you characterise as "most Kiwis don’t want a windmill in their back yard, and don’t want one in their neighbour’s yard either." But on the other hand they're planning to override people's objections to wind and hydro.

Do you have a credibility problem here?


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