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NRT: Energy - Labour Chooses The Green Path

No Right Turn

Energy: Labour Chooses The Green Path

Back in July, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report titled Future currents: Electricity scenarios for New Zealand 2005-2050 [PDF]. This laid out two core scenarios for the future of electricity generation in New Zealand: a "brown" one, where we assume that demand must increase, and focus on removing perceived impediments (such as the RMA and carbon tax) so that it can be met as quickly and cheaply as possible with large, dirty projects; and a "green" (or rather Viridian) one, in which we use innovation and technology to "get more from less" while pursuing a sustainable path. National's energy policy, released last month, firmly chose the brown path. By contrast, Labour's policy, released today, is very much on the green one.

Right from the beginning, the focus is on "long-term, sustainable solutions, rather than quick fixes". There is a strong commitment to meeting EECA's target of a 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2012, with a host of measures such as tightening the building code to require more insulation and encourage solar heating and smart design, funding the "warm homes project" to retrofit existing dwellings, introducing an energy rating system for homes, and requiring energy efficiency labelling on appliances. On the demand side, they will use the carbon tax to incentivise the market in favour of renewable generation, with a goal of raising our renewable generation to 80% by 2020. They will also fund research into overcoming the transmission issues associated with wind power, and into the long-term prospect of meeting all future demand growth from renewable sources. And they'll develop a National Energy Strategy so we'll have some idea of what we need, and how we can get there from here.

While there is a strong focus on renewables, this does not mean that Labour is abandoning thermal generation. They recognise that it has a necessary role in our generation mix, and have taken steps to encourage gas exploration so that our thermal stations have the fuel they need. But that bit's done, and the focus is definitely on a sustainable future where thermal fills a supplementary role for peak loads and dry years, rather than being baseload generation.

On the transport front (a topic utterly unaddressed in National's policy), Labour is promising to introduce biofuels, encourage the uptake of fuel efficient vehicles, and introduce fuel efficiency labelling. But most importantly, there is a recognition that one day, the cheap oil will run out, and a determination to plan for that eventuality. Labour will establish an interdepartmental working party to investigate the effects on all aspects of New Zealand society (and it won't just affect whether you drive to work or not), as well as plan for various lengths of supply disruption and price hikes. It's clear that they're taking a long-term view on this, and thinking for the future - as you'd expect a decent government to do.

Comparing the policies, National's offering looks awfully thin, as well as awfully dirty and short-term. Labour's OTOH, points the way to a sustainable future, one which stresses quality of life and accords with our core values. I know which one I will be choosing...


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