Thursday, August 14, 2008

National picks the brown path again

Back in 2005, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report titled Future currents: Electricity scenarios for New Zealand 2005-2050 [PDF], which laid out two possible paths for our energy future: a green path, where we focused on renewables and efficiency, and a brown path, where we focused on meeting demand with large projects so as to ensure low prices to large industrial users.

From its energy policy [PDF] released today, National clearly favours the brown path. The focus is very much on scaring people over security of supply in order to justify gutting the RMA and removing the ban on new thermal generation. It is a policy written for large business interests - those who sell gas, such as Shell and Todd Energy, who want a continuing market, and those who want cheap power, such as Rio-Tinto. Neither gives a damn about the ongoing environmental effects of their activities.

National's proposed RMA reforms - removing "frivolous" objections (i.e. those from poor people), and introducing "priority consents" - are aimed at allowing developers and central government to impose projects regardless of the wishes of local communities - just as they did over the Clyde Dam. This is supposed to increase affordability to ordinary residential customers. But as the graph on the final page of the policy shows, that's simply a lie - our charges go up regardless, as electricity monopolies exploit a captive market. It is large industrial users and their shareholders who will benefit, not ordinary people.

As for the environment, they're quite clear: the switch to renewable energy will not be allowed to get in the way of security of supply. What this means in practice is that they are abandoning it. And they're effectively abandoning action on climate change as well - while they are promising to introduce a new ETS within 9 months of taking office, it will still have to pass through the House - a process which will take at least a year. Which will push back the start date until January 2011 - conveniently getting polluters off the hook for even longer. Meanwhile, the one measure we have in place to reduce emissions - EECA - will effectively be gutted (that's what a switch to "encouragement" rather than "denying consumer choice" means: an end to energy efficiency regulation in favour of a utopian belief that the market will sort it all out, despite the fact that it has obviously failed to do so in the past).

This is an outright regressive policy which will undermine local democracy and commit us to higher greenhouse gas emissions, while doing nothing for ordinary consumers. The only people it benefits are corporate polluters. Which is petty much National in a nutshell.