Grant Bradley: Party plays on fears with energy policy

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National has predictably chosen to talk up blackout fears in releasing its energy policy.

And it picked a pretty good day to highlight our reliance on the country's naturally unstable hydro resource, responsible for nearly two-thirds of our electricity.

Power stations in the Waikato have more water than they can use with the river near flood, and the latest data shows lake levels in the South Island stubbornly low - lower in fact than they were at the same time of the year in 1992 when there were brown-outs.

This late in winter the country is well past the crisis stage but it illustrates the impossibility of controlling when and where it rains.

National makes the point that this winter was the third in a decade that a crisis was averted - each time the rain has come - and it's the lingering perception there's not enough power to go around at the right time that has been gnawing at consumers, especially big businesses who say they are deferring investment because of it.

National's policy paper and background material is short and to the point. Among other promises, pledges to overturn a ban on baseload (continuously available) thermal power stations is hardly going to see a rash of them sprout up around the country.

At around $500 million a pop generators' rates of return on investment will see politically awkward power price rises and they'll want guaranteed gas - for 20 years or more.

The most ambitious of National's promises is to introduce their emissions trading scheme within just one year - this speed will definitely be determined by the composition of any Government it leads. It wouldn't be an energy policy without promises to streamline the Resource Management Act.

Even the more moderate in the energy sector are craving this. While happy that those directly affected by power station plans make their point, they're furious at the number of unrelated parties slowing the process to a crawl.

National's energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee has been gunning for the Electricity Commission for ages and the policy ominously promises a "review with one possible outcome being disestablishment." The David Caygill-led commission will this year take in $94 million from levies retailers pass on to consumers (it's in the fine print of power bills) and others in the energy sector question its value.

One of the commission's key tasks is to create an environment to enhance security of supply. National's banking on users not feeling secure at all.

- NZ Herald

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