Friday, September 20, 2019

Climate Change: Squandering our opportunity?

The Herald has a story today about the 400 MW of wind power currently under construction. Good news, right? Except that none of it is being driven by policy (instead, its about replacing Contact Energy's Taranaki Combined Cycle gas-fired power plant, due to shut down in 2022), and most of the 1800 MW of consented wind projects waiting to be built will expire within the next five years:

"Nothing has changed in the last couple of years to encourage people to buy EVs or for industries to start to electrify," England says.

"There's been no policy or regulation, or no government influence to enable that, and unless there is, we're not going to see demand growth."


This month, the Government was again talking up the country's "abundant" consented wind and geothermal options. But in the absence of demand growth — and with the current transmission pricing regime still disadvantaging South Island projects after a decade of debate — little has been built.

And those remaining options are fast expiring, or being made irrelevant by newer, larger wind turbines that can operate at less windy, so-called tier-2 sites. Most of the country's remaining consented wind projects — potentially more than 1800MW of capacity — will lapse within five years.

EV policy is just being sorted out - finally - but won't kick in for a few years yet. As for pushing industry to electrify rather than rely on coal or gas, that would require both regulation and a significant rise in carbon prices. And the government is refusing to let the latter happen for the next two years at least.

With the amount of wind power we have consented, we have a golden opportunity to massively decarbonise our energy system. And government foot-dragging is threatening to squander it. Its disappointing to say the least, and future generations are going to be paying the price for their slackness.

How do we turn this around? Immediate, urgent legislation to double the ETS fixed price option would be a good start, along with removing the RMA restriction on considering greenhouse gas emissions (highlighted again on Newsroom this morning). But the government also needs to keep those windfarm consents live so they can be built. Thanks to National's privatisations, they can no longer simply instruct SOEs to do it, so they need another option. Creating a new SOE to acquire those consents, build the windfarms, and flood the market with cheap, renewable electricity to drive Huntly out of business seems like a workable solution.