The Government's $1 billion regional development fund and ambitious tree planting programme have the characteristics of a New Deal.

The New Deal is a term famously associated with the Democratic president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, and the federal government's efforts to revive capitalism following the Great Depression and create jobs for millions of unemployed.

This included spending big on public works programmes, such as building airports, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges and dams. Similar initiatives were the hallmark of the first Labour government in New Zealand.

It's a term that's regained some currency today, particularly within the environmental movement, who advocate a Green New Deal that would see governments actively coordinating jobs in industries that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

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Shane Jones, the Minister for Regional Economic Development, has been using some New Deal-type rhetoric. What his words will translate to in practice is still uncertain, but it looks like Northland will be one of the regions where a new hands-on approach to economic management will be tested.

The Northland economy, having been left to the most invisible of invisible hands, is not generating sufficient high paying jobs that confer dignity and respect. A more rational approach has to be welcomed.

If I was Shane Jones, then, with say, $250 million to spend in Northland on projects that created work for people, what would I prioritise?

My criteria would be proper meaningful jobs, sustainability, and a geographical spread of the economic benefits.

A project that I think meets these criteria is free solar water heating for homes.

I've played around with some figures and it's imminently doable, with benefits at a number of levels.

Around 50 per cent of an average household's electricity bill goes on heating water. A solar water heating system can provide 70 per cent or more of this heating capacity, thus enabling an electricity usage reduction of up to 35 per cent.

Looking at costings online, and factoring in economies of scale, minus private sector profit if run as a public works scheme, the per house cost of solar water heating installation could be as low as $6000.

There were 60,192 occupied dwellings in Northland at the 2013 census. Let's say 20,000 homes of low and middle-income Northlanders were targeted in the initial phase.

That would come to $120 million of the regional development fund, leaving money left over for tree planting and the laying of railway track.

A good many people in Northland would be learning skills helpful to the future. We'd be reducing our energy usage and carbon footprint, as well taking pressure off the need to build more electricity generation capacity, whether from renewables or coal.

What this example shows, is that Shane Jones does have a large chunk of money to spend. How that money is spent could make a difference to our lives.

Or it could get frittered away on projects that benefit a small number of people, and which does nothing to address the issues around energy use that are so urgent.

I'm sold on free solar water heating for Northland homes, but let's hear some other ideas and have a debate about their relative merits. I'm sure Shane Jones is keen to listen.