When hydro lakes are full power prices are low. But that’s not always the case (Photo: Getty)
When hydro lakes are full power prices are low. But that’s not always the case (Photo: Getty)

The BulletinJune 25, 2019

The Bulletin: Govt’s renewable energy priorities criticised

When hydro lakes are full power prices are low. But that’s not always the case (Photo: Getty)
When hydro lakes are full power prices are low. But that’s not always the case (Photo: Getty)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Report questions government’s plans for renewable energy, reshuffle confirmed by PM for later this week, and two powerful pieces about giving birth. 

The government’s priorities for lowering carbon emissions are in question, in a report produced about electricity generation. Basically, the current goal is to get 100% of the country’s electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2035 – so that would mean wind, solar and hydro. Currently, the vast majority of New Zealand’s energy does come from renewables. But a study done by the Independent Climate Change Committee, unreleased by the government but obtained by the NZ Herald, suggests that getting that final few percent over the line will be really expensive, and wouldn’t make a massive difference to the country’s emissions profile.

Those costs will impact heavily on poorer households, which means the negative effects of energy poverty can be further exacerbated. To a much larger degree, industrial and business energy costs would also go up. Climate change minister James Shaw says the 100% goal isn’t fixed, and any advice will be considered. But a formal government response to the report will likely be a few weeks away.

Fortunately, there was an option suggested by the ICCC to actually reduce carbon emissions – which should be the underlying point of all of these policies. Unfortunately, it’s in an area where the government have been spinning their wheels for months now – getting some sort of economic incentive going for electric cars. As Newshub Nation reports, any sort of government plan on this is now absurdly behind schedule, despite suggestions from the government it would be out last year. The ICCC report suggests prioritising rapid changes to NZ’s vehicle fleet (overwhelmingly dominated by petrol) would have a bigger impact than changing electricity generation. Electric cars are by no means perfect, but would do a lot of good if they replaced petrol and diesel.

There’s a whole lot of other choices being made in the economy right now, which the government could prioritise to lower emissions. For example, what about clamping down on the sweetheart deals given to the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter – the subject of this opinion piece by Stuff’s Rebecca Stevenson? It uses more power than residential Auckland, and that power would be highly useful if an electric fleet hit the roads. Or, that excess power could be used to run every Fonterra coal fired boiler on electricity instead, with a lot left over.

These sorts of changes would require the government to be starkly more interventionist, and there would need to be significant support for the people and organisations affected by the changes. But such changes would, in fact, reduce emissions. And if the government is serious about those emissions coming down in the next few years (which isn’t remotely likely even with the Zero Carbon bill) some actual political and economic choices will have to be made. It could be relevant that the Clyde Dam, one of the single most important pieces of renewable energy infrastructure in the country, was constructed under the Muldoonist policy known as ‘Think Big.’ Perhaps a bit more of that spirit is now needed to meet modern challenges.

The PM has confirmed a minor reshuffle of her ministers is going to take place on Thursday this week, which might give some of them a few sleepless nights. Much of the questioning so far has focused on housing and transport minister Phil Twyford, though as Business Desk reports, the PM has defended his record, which may be a relief to him. Kris Faafoi is widely expected to come into Cabinet.

Reshuffles are a lot of fun for commentators, because they allow for both speculation and analysis. Stuff’s senior political reporter Stacey Kirk says major changes are unlikely, because PM Ardern doesn’t have the depth to play with. Over on Nine to Noon, lobbyist Neale Jones had a different take on the caucus depth, saying it was there, but because of electoral hammerings in 2011 and 2014, many of Labour’s newcomers only got at the 2017 election, so were too inexperienced for big steps up. My take on it all: I’m pretty sure that after the reshuffle, Jacinda Ardern will still be PM.

Two powerful pieces show how much extra difficulty is being put on women giving birth right now. The first, from Stuff, is a feature exploring the crisis in midwifery as a profession, how few there are relative to demand, and why. And on Crux, this is an extremely difficult first person read, from a mother who two years ago came extremely close to death from a rare complication, that took place in Queenstown hospital where there weren’t the staff or facilities to deal with it.

There hasn’t been room for this in the last couple of days, but given it goes back to 2012 there’s no massive rush. Stuff’s Henry Cooke has put together a remarkable history of the Kiwibuild policy, from the deepest realms of opposition to being implemented, with very little change to how it would look in the process. But since that implementation has begun, well, almost everything has had to change. The piece also looks ahead to what could possibly come after the ‘reset’ state that the policy currently languishes in.

Could the official cash rate be cut again? That’s a prospect being covered on Interest right now, who have heard from bank economists that the Reserve Bank might be “goaded” into pushing it down even further to 1.25%, possibly even as early as this week. It’s already at a record low level, so that would be unconventional to say the least.

Speaking of banking, the government plans to bring in a new bank deposit scheme. The idea behind it is that were a bank collapse to happen, depositors would have at least some of their money protected, which is relatively common overseas. This from Radio NZ’s Gyles Beckford is a great analysis of how that would mark a significantly more interventionist stance towards banking for New Zealand.

Possible changes to the polytech sector are alarming those in regional centres affected. Cabinet documents were leaked by National last week, which the party says will take power away from high performing institutes, reports One News. Among the places where there is significant concern are Nelson and Invercargill, where the tertiary centres form a significant part of the city’s economic and social base.

A bit of housekeeping: We’re launching The Spinoff Members today, which is a new programme that will allow our readers to contribute to our future coverage. The main point that I absolutely want to get across about it – it’s not a paywall. It’s about including people, rather than excluding people from what we’re doing. Any money that comes in from the membership programme will be ring-fenced around doing great journalism, and more of it.

The other thing to get across – The Bulletin that you get is free now, and will stay free forever. But for those who do sign up for membership, you will also get access to a brand new Bulletin – the weekly world news edition – to be written by me. It’s something a lot of people have suggested over the last year and a half, so it’s really cool to be able to bring it out.

If you want to read more about it, our managing editor Duncan Greive has put together a big piece explaining the reasons why we’re doing this, what else membership will come with, and get his fulsome views on the general state of journalism funding. But if you’ve heard enough and are keen to sign up right away, you can do so here. Thanks very much for reading, now on with The Bulletin.

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Litter of puppies in animal shelter. (Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Duncan Greive meets and writes the definitive feature on Leo Molloy, the so-called ‘Mad Dog’ of hospitality at the Viaduct. Ellen Sinclair writes about the huge pressure animal rescue organisations are under at the moment. Rebecca Kiddle hits out at the lack of recognition of Māori design, when Christchurch’s new library was given an architectural award. And Josie Adams continues her odyssey through Mt Albert – this piece is about the changes that will come along with new train networks.

For a feature today, we’re heading to the seaside town of Tolaga Bay, where all is still not well. Stuff journalist Andre Chumko has been there talking to locals, more than a year after a massive storm brought terrible and destructive rivers of forestry slash off the hillsides, into the town, and onto the beach. The effects of that disaster have lingered for a long time. Here’s an excerpt:

Uawa’s marine life – crayfish, mussels, whitebait, eels – has faced “phenomenal destruction” since last year, Stender says.

“We’re worried about our food … The toxins that those pine trees are putting into our kai.”

She scrunches up her face: “We’re going to be 10 years later and look like this.”

Last season, there was no whitebait in the river, possibly because they couldn’t spawn on the riverbanks strewn with slash. Thatcher says even the barnacles on the rocks, and pāua, have been affected.

“We’re still eating it, but the logging ain’t making it any healthier. We had healthy seafood before that happened. We don’t really know what we’re eating, but we’re still eating it because that’s what we’ve been doing for years.”

German media is reporting Phoenix wunderkind Sarpreet Singh will sign with Bayern Munich, reports the NZ Herald. He’s currently on contract in Wellington, so it would require a big transfer deal to make happen. But as one of the young players who is seen as the future of the All Whites, such a move could allow him to really develop his potential, which could come in very handy for the national team. A caveat – nothing yet has been confirmed.

Finally, we had a bonus episode of The Offspin come out yesterday. We tested the adage that sport and politics shouldn’t mix with MPs Chris Bishop and Kieran McAnulty, who between them share the captaincy of the Parliamentary cricket team. That outfit is off to a World Cup of their own in about a week, and they might even get to play against the likes of Pakistani President and handy cricketer Imran Khan.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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