Friday, August 19, 2005

Energy: National chooses the brown path

Last month, 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 "green" (or possibly Viridian) scenario, in which we use innovation and technology to "get more from less" while pursuing a sustainable path; and a "brown" one, where we assume demand must increase, and focus on meeting it with large projects. In this scenario, resource management processes are seen as barriers to progress, and

Decision making... tends to be conservative. It favours proven technologies and established approaches that do not fundamentally challenge existing practices. When major projects are delayed, or when people are not prepared for the depletion of energy sources they depend on, important decisions are often made in a reactive way. Decision makers respond quickly to crises (either perceived or real) and the most powerful interests of the day.

Yesterday, National released its energy policy - and they've firmly chosen the brown path. The focus is solely on meeting demand, and the means chosen to meet this goal are gutting the RMA so that large projects can be steam-rollered through over the top of local opposition, and well as repealing the carbon charge, so that generators can avoid paying the full environmental cost of their activities, and thus use the cheapest, dirtiest technology available. This will give us security of supply alright - but at enormous cost to our quality of life and our core values.

As the PCE report points out, another path is available - and in many ways, we're already on it. We are already more than meeting our annual demand growth from wind alone - and this accords fully with our "quality of life" ethic. We're conducting innovative research into environmentally friendly homes, which cost no more than any other house, but use a fraction of the electricity. And as the news last night reported, we're seeing a move towards industrial cogeneration, which is more efficient than centralised generation and distribution (at least for large users). Energy policy should be aimed at accelerating these trends and encouraging this innovation - not trying to stamp it out in favour of the same dirty technology we've been using since the 19th century.