New energy strategy a missed opportunity

You’d be forgiven for not noticing that the Government published a new draft energy strategy this week. It’s basically the same as the old energy strategy, which they published in 2011, but with one new target around industrial process emissions intensity.

In short, it’s a missed opportunity that shows a lack of bold vision and a lack of imagination from the National Government.

Tarawera factory and Mt putauaki

Industrial process emissions are important. They make up about a third of our country’s total energy use. As we slowly burn less coal for electricity generation, attention is shifting to other uses of fossil fuels, like in boilers (for heat) and in Fonterra’s milk-drying plants. These are good targets for sensible emissions reduction policies. Unfortunately, the industrial emissions target that the new energy strategy proposes is weak – just a 1% reduction each year.

In fact, industrial emissions intensity has been declining about 1% every year since 1990 and is forecast to continue to decline at that rate under a business as usual scenario. In other words, New Zealand will meet this target by doing nothing. You cannot get less visionary or transformative than that.

wind turbines

The industrial emissions target is similar to the Government’s electric vehicles target (which has been repeated in the “new” energy strategy) of 2% of the light vehicle fleet being EVs by 2021, because ministry of Transport modelling shows that will happen by itself too.

And it’s important to note that reducing emissions intensity isn’t the same as reducing total emissions. Emissions intensity is a measurement of how much pollution is created relative to economic output (e.g. how much coal it takes to produce a tonne of milk powder). So, for example, if a factory used to make one tonne of milk powder by burning one tonne of coal, and now it makes two tonnes of milk powder by burning 1.5 tonnes of coal, it’s being more efficient now but total coal use (and therefore total emissions) has still grown from 1 tonne to 1.5 tonnes.

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The old 90% renewable electricity target pops up in the “new” energy strategy too. Unlike the EV and industrial emissions targets, the 90% renewable target is an example of the Government setting a target that would actually take some action to achieve, but then doing nothing to achieve it.

Under National’s watch, the electricity industry conspired to keep burning coal in Genesis’ power plant at Huntly, when a responsible minister would have stepped up and found are better ways to ensure security of supply. And also, National stood by and allowed Nova Energy to plan a new fossil fuel power plant in South Waikato, even when the Green Party suggested we should use it as a test case to see if the Resource Management Act is fit to deal with the post-Paris Climate Agreement world.

Also missing from the “new” energy strategy is a focus on the export opportunities of renewable energy. Globally, the clean energy market is growing faster than you can say Tesla. Instead of digging up coal and sending it overseas, New Zealand should be creating high-tech jobs and exporting our clean energy expertise and intellectual property to the world.

Urban living in Freiburg, Germany. Image credit: Arnold Plesse

Urban living with rooftop solar in Freiburg, Germany. Image credit: Arnold Plesse

There is some okay stuff in the new energy strategy. EECA will keep doing what it can to help households and businesses be more efficient on its tight budget. That’s good, but really we should be enabling EECA to do much more, to be bolder, to find new ways to save Kiwis money and play our part to protect the climate.

In the same week that NIWA predicted that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, people deserve more from their Governments than business as usual and easy targets we can meet without doing anything.

I’m working on some new ideas in the energy portfolio and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you soon. Because it’s clearer now than ever before that if we want bold ideas, we need to change the Government next year.

Portland doing it right with light rail and clean energy

Portland, US doing it right with light rail and clean energy