Energy divide

Last updated 19:23 14/08/2008

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A clear difference in emphasis has emerged in the energy policies released by Labour and National this week, writes The Press in an editorial.

 Both agree on the obvious, that a workable energy policy must meet the country's present needs. Both declare that they are committed to upholding environmental goals, including those aimed at reducing any possible effects on climate change. But in the inevitable trade-offs that must be made to achieve those goals the two parties present a clear choice. For Labour, the focus is on renewable energy, and particularly on a new concept, "reversibility". For National, with the memory fresh in everyone's mind of the third winter in recent years in which energy security has skirted close to a crisis, the focus is meeting present needs and preparing for those of the future.

Labour policy adheres to its line that its commitments on climate-change policies mean the future lies in renewable energy wind, geothermal, solar, tidal and hydro. It has what looks like a very ambitious aim of having 90 per cent of New Zealand's electricity needs met from such sources by 2025. The scale of that ambition can be understood if it is considered that several times during this last winter thermal generation supplied more than half of our electricity needs.

But Labour believes it can be met, among other things by making it easier for smaller-scale projects, such as "a wind turbine in the backyard", in the words of the Energy Minister, David Parker, to be developed to reduce the reliance, particularly in rural areas, on the national grid. Labour also says the new concept, at least to the wider public, of "reversibility" will have to be factored into local authority decisions on such projects. This, according to the minister, would mean taking into account the fact that a dam on a river has permanent effects whereas a wind turbine, at least in theory, would not have a permanent impact on wildlife and ecosystems.

The difficulty with renewable sources of energy, however, is that no matter how much people may profess to admire the concept, they run into the same problems as other energy projects no-one seems to want one anywhere near them. Wind turbine projects, large and small, up and down the country have met ferocious resistance. And the revival by Contact Energy of proposals for more hydro dams on the Clutha River, while welcomed by some, has also prompted a threat of determined opposition by others.

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National is selling its energy policy as an integral part of its plan to try to lift the country's productivity growth. Productivity growth, which is crucial to economic prosperity, has sagged badly under the present Government and National believes, probably correctly, that secure and efficient electricity supply is essential to help try to revive it. Whether it can achieve this while paying more than lip-service to environmental commitments remains to be seen.

What is missing from the debate so far, though, is a coherent policy to achieve more efficient use of electricity. So far as the Government is concerned, apart from ad hoc electricity-saving campaigns whenever the supply situation becomes particularly dire and its forthcoming ban on incandescent light bulbs, little of any real effect has been done to promote energy efficiency. If the matter were really urgent, people may think, a lot more effort would have gone into that.


- The Press

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