It was disappointing to see the New Zealand Wind Energy Association fire a broadside at the government this week, claiming pro-fossil fuel policy settings are leaving our economy behind in a world increasingly dominated by renewables.
The opinion piece suggested we need to look to countries like Germany, which is on track to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It also claimed Australia was another global leader in the charge toward eco-friendly electricity alternatives such as wind, geothermal and hydro.
Furthermore, the association argued the government needs to stop subsidising fossil fuels, particularly oil and gas, in the form of tax breaks, research and development activities and marketing.
It is just a pity this view only tells a fraction of the story, compares apples with oranges, and seen from a particular angle, looks to be a partisan attempt at self-promotion and scaremongering.
Let us balance out some of the facts. Germany’s target may be laudable but New Zealand is light years ahead in any case, with 75% of our electricity coming from renewable sources. Australia, by comparison, only generated about 13% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2010.
Furthermore, the subsidies the association cited in the article do not exist in the electricity sector in New Zealand, and nor do they need them.
The bulk of the generation that has been built over the last decade has been renewable, all of which was privately funded by private firms (or state-owned firms operating as private companies).
Yes, some of the investment has gone into gas-fired peaker plants, but these facilities are essential to our economy if we want achieve a security of supply because they make up for generation shortfalls that result when there is a lack of rain or wind.
During this year’s drought we would have faced electricity blackouts if the peaker and coal-fired plants hadn’t been there. Certainly wind generation cannot be relied upon enough to do this.
The article also ignores the fact that not a single piece of coal-fired kit has been developed in decades, and the one remaining plant, Huntly, is rapidly approaching the end of its lifespan.
The association also claims wind turbines have “none of the fossil fuel factors (associated with coal)”, ignoring, of course, that you need hardened steel to make them, and that relies on coal.
It is a given that we all want cleaner, cheaper electricity generation, but if you are going to make a case for it, your argument will be all the stronger for having all the facts on the table, not just the ones that suit you.
Jason Krupp is a research fellow at the New Zealand Initiative
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