Friday, July 23, 2010

A closer look: National's Energy Strategy

Yesterday the government released its Draft New Zealand Energy Strategy [PDF] for consultation. So, how does it compare with Labour's 2007 version? The difference is easy to spot. Labour's energy strategy was about shifting to a sustainable, low-emissions energy infrastructure. National's is about finding oil.

And that is about the size of it. Of twelve specific goals, "develop petroleum and mineral fuel resources" is first, while "reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions" is last. The environment has been reduced to an afterthought, a commitment to "best practice" (which means doing nothing), rather than being put at the core of the document. As for sustainability, its a dirty word, without a single mention in the entire document.

In keeping with National's climate change policy, there's a massive disconnect between goals and action. The government has retained the target of 90% renewable electricity by 2025, but has no plans on how it will be achieved. It seems to think the market will do it itself, rather than pursuing the cheapest, dirtiest technology. Ditto their plans for "an energy efficient transport system", where they say they will "focus on improving vehicle efficiency" while shitcanning plans to do exactly that (and building more roads, subsidising poor choices, while starving public transport). Only on finding oil do they have concrete plans, with promises of more fat exploration subsidies to the oil industry in the place of research into renewables. Isn't it time we stopped subsidising the dirty, polluting oil industry? After all, they are the problem, not the solution.

Appended to the Energy Strategy is a new National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy. This sets more ambitious targets than the 2007 version, but again there's the disconnect between goals and actions. For example, they aim to reduce transport energy use by 29 PJ a year by 2015 (vs 20PJ a year in the 2007 version). The first specific action they give for achieving this? Building roads. Yes, seriously. Other than that, its just "provide information". Again, they seem to think the market will produce these reductions by magic - because that's so obviously what its done in the past. Similarly, they plan to save 21PJ a year by 2015 from business. Their chief policy? "Encourage a long-term view". This isn't "light-handed regulation" - it's doing nothing.

On products, specific targets to have Minimum Energy Performance Standards for 17 new classes of products and EnergyStar labelling for 15 has been replaced with a vague goal to extend such regulation "in line with major trading partners". Again, a "do nothing" approach. And on government, they've reduced the target for the public sector, eliminating carbon neutrality targets and pushing the deadline for a 10% reduction in per-employee energy use from 2012 to 2015. Only on homes do they have actions to bring about their goals, with a massive expansion of insulation programmes compared to Labour. And that's all due to the Greens.

In opposition, National derided Labour's strategies as "hot air". In government, that's exactly what they are producing. A 4-year-old can understand that things don't happen by magic, and that setting goals without any plans on how to bring them about will result in failure. Sadly, that logic seems to escape Gerry Brownlee.