Jeanette Fitzsimons

Nick Smith doesn’t get it

by Jeanette Fitzsimons

Nick Smith’s response to “Getting There“, the Green Party’s analysis of how much of a 40% greenhouse gas reduction target we could meet in NZ at low cost, was entirely predictable. We asked him 7 questions in the House today and are none the wiser.

First, he refused to give any information about any work the Government had done to set out possible emissions reductions, other than to say a lot of departments had worked on it. We suspect that is because there is nothing to say. The Government has relied on macro-economic analysis about emissions prices instead of analysing opportunities. Smith had made it clear that it was up to NGOs and volunteers to work out how to meet a target, not the job of the well resourced government departments he controls.

Then, he claimed he had not read our package. While it is true that we got a copy to his office only about an hour and a half before he had to answer the question, you can be totally sure that his staff had read it and advised him. It would have been obvious when it turned up that it related to question 1 in the House which they would already have been working on. Clearly they advised him not to address anything it actually said. That is good news; it means he could not rebut it.

Then, he set about rebutting things we had not said – like proposing 100% renewable electricity, which he said would raise power prices 30%. That’s the reason we didn’t propose 100%. When I was leadng EECA’s work under the last government, we had some robust analysis done by EECA and MED  to determine the costs of various levels of renewability in the electricity system. We found 90% renewable by 2025 was entirely achievable and hardly raised prices at all, as there is a lot of low cost geothermal and wind energy waiting to be built.

Going to 100% is costly because you have to build a huge amount of capacity which just sits around unused until there is a very dry winter, given that people don’t like power cuts. Much better to have a couple of gas peaking stations that are cheap to build and only run a small proportion of the time. The greenhouse gases are negligible in the scheme of things and the saved capital is much better used to make significant reductions in transport or agriculture which are a much bigger worry than electricity.

Next he attacked the idea of reducing farm animals by a third. That would mean reducing dairy farm stocking rates from 2.83 cows/ha which is the current average to 1.86. Our proposal was to reduce them to 2.3, which is the intensity that research has found is most profitable for the farmer if milk prices are below $5.50. The current price is $5.20, which is also the average price (inflation adjusted) over the last ten years. The extra return from additional animals per hectare just doesn’t pay for the huge increase in urea, bought in feeds, off farm grazing of animals not in milk and animal health costs that are needed to cram more animals on to the same land. Dairy farmers could be making more money and reducing emissions.

We didn’t get as far as transport where fuel economy standards for vehicles could dramatically lower petrol costs for motorists – but he’s bound to have a reason not to do this too.

He quoted again that mysterious figure attributed to the NZIER/Infometrics report, that a minus 40% target would entail a cost of $14.5 Billion a year – impressive, except that no-one can find it in that report. Did he make it up?

Not a single question of mine answered, not a single  point in our report addressed, but finally, the last refuge of someone with no arguments,  a personal attack: emissions rose while I was leading the Government’s work on energy efficiency. Well, of course! Programmes take a couple of years to get through Cabinet and operational; then they take some time to have measurable effect. And energy efficiency is only one part of a much larger problem. The effects of the Government doing nothing today wil be felt over the next decade.

NZ deserves a “can do” minister, not a “can’t do, won’t try” government.

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Parliament by Jeanette Fitzsimons on Wed, August 5th, 2009   

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