Thursday, August 24, 2006

Making sausages

"Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." -- Otto von Bismarck

Yesterday I went to Wellington to learn about the Ministry of Economic Development's 2005 Energy Outlook and participate in a "stakeholder engagement" session on the proposed New Zealand Energy Strategy. The Energy Outlook is a long-term projection of future energy supply and demand, and will hopefully be the subject of a later post. The Energy Strategy is intended to lay out the broad direction of energy policy for the next 40 years, and one of the questions under consideration is whether it should establish a solid commitment to sustainable energy in the form of a commitment to a totally renewable or carbon-neutral electricity generation system by 2050. This would (finally) be a step forward for climate change policy, as well as connecting with the high value placed on the environment by ordinary kiwis.

Of course, this being a "stakeholder engagement" session, ordinary kiwis weren't really part of the picture. Instead, it was central government, local government, and energy industry representatives. There was some token representation from environmental groups - Greenpeace and the Sustainable Energy Forum - but the conversation was dominated by the concerns of industry, notably people like Solid Energy and the Major Electricity Users Group. What these people want from energy policy is quite different from what ordinary kiwis want. Where we are at least nominally interested in the environment and sustainability, and see these as providing at least some constraints on acceptable policy, they are interested in the cheapest possible energy supply, regardless of environmental cost. That is when they're not market darwinists (the visiting Young Republican Falange was particularly cringeworthy), outright climate change deniers, or desperately trying to hype tooth fairy technology like carbon capture and sequestration because it is their only hope of staying in business.

With the policy development process so dominated by these voices, I'm wondering whether we'll see that strong commitment to renewables, or whether it will be watered down to nothingness so that vested interests can continue to profit from inaction. If you'd like to do something about this, then submitting some feedback on the strategy (documents linked above) advocating for a solid renewables commitment wouldn't hurt.

As for the process itself, it rather confirmed Bismarck's quote. What emerged at the other end, after all the sectional advocacy and grumbling that the government had policy goals at all (this apparently being considered illegitimate in a democratic society) was a collection of empty motherhood statements laden with the usual corporate buzzwords. This was of course taken down in great detail, though what the Ministry will do with it is anyone's guess - there wasn't much in the way of useful policy input there. But somehow, I suspect that the purpose of such functions isn't to seek useful input - that comes through detailed written submissions - as get an idea of how people feel about the policy and how hard they will oppose it. "They didn't set fire to the room, and no-one got lynched, so it must be alright"...


Of course, this being a "stakeholder engagement" session, ordinary kiwis weren't really part of the picture.

wtf? ordinary NZers are not stakeholders in the country's long-term energy strategy?

Makes me think that the MED is a country cousin of all those US federal agencies that are completely captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate.

What is the point of a session like this if the industry's oligopolistic rent-seekers are going to dominate the proceedings?

Rapid renationalisation of electricity generation and distribution seem to be in order...


Posted by Anonymous : 8/24/2006 04:50:00 PM

Tochigi: well, we are - but usually, its only industry representatives who get invited to these things. Here, they'd invited everyone who had expressed interest in the NES, but there's little public interest in something so arcane - and more importantly, not much effort to attract any.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/24/2006 06:02:00 PM