The party lines

Categories: Engineering and science.

New Zealand’s four main political parties generally agree that both energy efficiency and energy conservation are important. However, they vary in their enthusiasm for the various programmes run by government agencies to promote those two goals.

For instance, National backs the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s (EECA) basic strategy to provide information for consumers on the energy used by electrical appliances. Labour says the very structure of the electricity market is geared to maximise consumption at peak times.

The Greens want EECA’s role expanded, and New Zealand First would also do this provided there is evidence the current schemes are helping consumers to make better choices.

Representatives of the four main parties, National, Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First, were asked for their views on a range of energy efficiency and conservation issues.

The representatives are Simon Bridges, National’s Minister of Energy and Resources; David Shearer, Labour’s energy spokesperson; Gareth Hughes, the energy spokesperson for the Green Party; and Andrew Williams, the energy spokesperson for New Zealand First.

All the parties were asked the same questions, and all were given the opportunity to check their answers. Their views are presented here.

Energy demand is increasing by about two per cent per year and successive governments have run a number of programmes to encourage better use of energy, and to lower demand. Which is more important – efficiency or conservation?

National: “Efficiency. The Government has an agenda to grow the economy, which means more output, so we do all we can to make sure that we are as efficient as we can be. In the energy sector there are not a lot of problems in the electricity market.

We are getting more from renewables and demand is flat. The wider picture is more intriguing and EECA is working to lower our emissions profile.”

Labour: “It’s not one or the other. I don’t believe that we have the electricity system geared to either efficiency or conservation. We have been looking at smart meters. They don’t encourage the consumer to take control of their power usage.

There’s no incentive to conserve or to use power at sensible times. The

system is geared to sell as much power as possible at peak times when power companies can charge the most. I’d be looking to a smarter grid, so consumers can switch on appliances in the middle of the night, and reduce the need for ‘peaker’ stations.”

Greens: “Both are equally important. In 1999 the Greens got EECA set up as part of our co-operation arrangement with the Labour/Alliance government. There are huge opportunities in both efficiency and conservation. There are inefficiencies in houses, vehicles, appliances, and huge opportunities to do better in managing demand.”

New Zealand First: “Efficiency is more important than conservation, because we have a history of inefficiency in transport, housing and industry. It’s been shown that greater efficiency in appliances, vehicles and the like can save a huge amount.”

Although EECA thinks the potential for savings is up to 100 petajoules with a value of $2.4 billion, we don’t seem to get anywhere near that. Is the Government doing enough, ought Kiwis be more energy conscious, or are there other factors involved?

National: “With so much renewable electricity, we are blessed. Generally it’s business as usual. It is hard to move people out of the status quo. The Government’s approach is very pragmatic and is guided by cost benefit analysis.”

Labour: “We don’t have the structure in the electricity industry for conservation. We should get that with Labour’s plan to establish New Zealand Power [to buy power for all consumers]. We will look at the different forms of generation. When we need more supply the Government will have choices: geothermal, reducing demand (through, for example, better insulation) and helping more people into solar energy.

We need better alternatives than the system is currently giving us.”

Greens: “Government leadership is lacking. Energy and conservation have been split. We would unite them in one strategy again. Changing behaviours takes a while, but instead of establishing and working towards clear targets the Government is laying off a fifth of the workforce in EECA.”

New Zealand First: “You can cite a number of factors, particularly the lack of proper education in the efficient use of energy. People just don’t know how much they waste in the running of their homes and offices. At the North Shore City Council we had an officer whose job it was to save energy. We saved nearly a million dollars a year by educating the staff.” [Mr Williams was previously Mayor of North Shore City Council.]

In the domestic sector, EECA promotes a number of energy saving programmes: Energywise, Homestar, What’s My Number (for switching power suppliers). The effort is going in but are there costeffective results?

National: “There are cost-effective results but in terms of the effort, the amount of money put into EECA is small. What we are trying to do is to move from capital expenditure grants to providing good advice. But it’s harder to see results because advice is just that.”

Labour: “The report on switching [power suppliers by consumers] produced by MBIE [the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] found that at a cost of $15 million to government there were savings of between $18 million to $70 million to consumers – hardly a stunning result.

More importantly the switching scheme hasn’t lowered overall power prices.”

Greens: “There are benefits. ‘Warm Up New Zealand’ got 235,000 households insulated which generated $1.3 billion worth of benefits. We worked constructively with National on this. Increased efficiency standards in a retail market are important. We’d support raising the minimum energy performance standards for appliances, houses and vehicles.”

New Zealand First: “I do think that these have been good exercises and are worthwhile. Our household has gone to energy efficient light bulbs and is saving energy and money. Other people we know have said the same. People will act when they are made personally aware.”

The four parties support the role and work of the EECA, whose budget is modest – just $64.5 million, or less than a 10th of one per cent of total government expenditure of $73 billion in the current year.

This includes $32.5 million for home insulation grants, $16 million for energy efficiency and conservation programmes, and another $13 million for electricity efficiency. The home insulation grants finish in 2015/16, but the energy efficiency programmes continue.

National says it has “reoriented [EECA] somewhat – to the real issues”.

Labour says “we support EECA but we would evaluate its work with an interest in expanding it. I feel it does a good job, but I don’t have a feel for how effective it is.”

The Greens support EECA and would expand its work. “We’re backing a $300 million home insulation package and there are wider opportunities available.”

New Zealand First also supports EECA but says “it needs a full review. It is important and it serves a useful function, and its payback is substantial.”

What will your party do to promote energy efficiency in transport?

National: “Transport is most important for lowering emissions. Good policy can make a real difference. Fortytwo per cent of our emissions come from energy use. Industrial heat and transport make up two thirds of that figure. We have announced four programmes which, if successful, will lower emissions.

“These include fuel efficient tyres – the motorist will get a return in one to two years. There’s the fuel efficient fleet programme which fosters better fuel management (and saves money). The Government also has programmes to promote efficiency in dairy and meat plants, and to encourage renewable heat hubs from biomass.”

Labour: “I would like to move to electric vehicles – promote that and talk about savings. Use codesmart meters

and grids to help people to use electric vehicles.”

Greens: “The Greens would progressively phase in fuel economy standards for all imported vehicles, so New Zealanders would drive fuel efficient cars.

Also, we’d be promoting the alternatives – walking, cycling and public transport.”

New Zealand First: “We support public transport. In Auckland we desperately need better public transport, which is energy efficient, and also because of the extensive pollution now being experienced in downtown Auckland.

“We favour rail being used throughout New Zealand. In the likes of Northland, the East Coast, Taranaki and Southland there are good rail lines sitting idle.”

Subsequently, New Zealand First announced it would divert $300 million from the Roads of National Significance to support the Auckland City Rail Link and the Napier-Gisborne rail line.

Under current regulations many products must get an energy efficiency rating before they can be imported or sold in New Zealand. The regime covers motors, chillers and conditioners, refrigerators, pumps, heaters, fluorescent lighting, whitewear and some monitors and TVs.

All the parties back the use of regulations to exclude products that don’t meet minimum standards of energy efficiency.

Labour and the Greens favour raising the minimum standards. There is also cross party support of the use of Energy Rating Labels. EECA says these encourage people to buy more efficient products by letting them compare how much energy various products use.

That assumes people give some weight to energy efficiency in their purchase decision along with factors like price, functionality and aesthetics.

In this respect, EECA says consumers are very aware of the energy labelling system, but it cannot produce evidence that shows this awareness translates into consumers buying the more energy efficient products.

Nonetheless, all the parties say the scheme is useful to consumers – although with some cautionary notes.

National’s Simon Bridges says “there are lots of consumers who find the scheme helpful. On the question of cause and effect (do people use the information in their purchase decision) I accept that we don’t know. Our approach is to provide information and to let the consumer decide.”

Labour’s David Shearer believe that while “people do take note, [the scheme] could be expanded to provide some approximation of cost of the difference in running costs of an appliance with three stars and an appliances with four stars”.

Gareth Hughes from the Greens says “it is important that this type of information is available and we believe that it is having an impact. It’s disappointing that EECA can’t prove that consumers are using the information in their purchase decisions. People are now far more conscious of the cost of energy – it’s risen 20 per cent in the last few years.”

Andrew Williams from New Zealand First says “our family used the ratings just recently in the purchase of a washing machine. I notice in appliance stores the various ratings are prominently displayed. However, people aren’t necessarily sure what the ratings really mean.”

The parties are less assured answering questions about schemes for business.

Take a scheme like NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System), which has been used in Australia for more than 10 years. It rates water, waste and indoor environment quality as well as energy, and is now used to rate the energy performance of about two thirds of the office space in Australia.

Higher rated buildings have lower outgoings, higher occupancy and the top rated buildings command a nine per cent rent premium. A New Zealand version was launched in June 2013.

National introduced it. Labour agrees with it. The Greens think the uptake among building owners is inadequate, and would make it compulsory for all government department buildings.

New Zealand First backs the setting of standards which means “tenants will know to look for them”.

The variations reflect the different approaches of the parties. National supports providing information, but is reluctant to move beyond that, and has pulled back from capital grants and incentives to promote efficiency or conservation.

The Greens would be more activist and hands-on, but Labour and New Zealand First are both selective about what they will support.