Last week, in a planning workshop with industry experts and community representatives, the regional council launched a process to look into Hawke's Bay's energy future and consider shaping its path.
This exercise, which will unfold over the next year or so, was triggered by response to the council's recent "Big Six" consultation which flagged our region's energy future as a major area of public concern.
In my remarks as chairman of the workshop for the regional council, I offered the following challenge to the participants. It's a challenge we offer to the entire community. And going forward, we will strive to involve all interests and perspectives in this critical area.
It's fair to say the catalyst for this initiative is the potential for oil and gas development in the region, with all its implications, locally and beyond, in a context where future carbon-based energy use must diminish.
Certainly our community needs to come to terms with how that might unfold, and the extent to which we in the region have a voice in that scenario. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has clearly established that, at the barest minimum, much stronger regulatory precautions must be in place if oil and gas development is to be deemed prudent to pursue in our region.
But that proposition is but one piece of the picture. It sits alongside the current day-to-day realities of our energy supply and usage here in the region.
As a starting point, we have a certain energy profile in Hawke's Bay. We can accept that passively as a given and let it evolve on a purely market-driven and incremental basis. Or we can identify another desired profile, and goals within it, that we might pursue more actively because an alternative future is more beneficial to our region - and perhaps beyond when we consider our relation to the national and global environment.
The process we are setting in motion presumes we do want to decide, and not drift into, our energy future, with a well-grounded understanding of both the opportunities and constraints regarding our ability to influence our path.
Constraints can mean cost, consumer adoption (including across different socio-economic levels), technical issues, regulation (what we can and can't control), environmental bottom lines, and offshore events in the energy arena.
Opportunities can mean cost reduction at a household, business and regional level; more resilience and security of supply; environmental benefit; greater civic pride in what our region is and stands for; and even marketing advantage.
Just to stimulate thinking, let me suggest some goals a Hawke's Bay energy strategy might aspire to:
-Claiming the mantle of "Renewables Capital of NZ" (including per capita use of electric vehicles)
-Providing our agriculture and transport sectors with 100 per cent "home-made" diesel fuel from biomass/waste
-Offering the country's cheapest electricity
-No net carbon emissions
-World-class energy efficiency and conservation programmes in all sectors
-And, if oil and gas development is mandated, a regulatory regime that would make the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment proud!
What better platform to create modern, technology-oriented jobs in Hawke's Bay, and from which to market "green" premium products to premium customers abroad, the niche our huge primary sector must occupy.
Personally, I'd like to see a strategy that takes us in that direction. But let me emphasise that this process will have no predetermined outcome.
As a councillor, I'm committed to a process our public regards as truly open and inclusive, well-informed, engaging and trust-building, so its outcome is widely embraced.
Soon we'll lay out the public engagement process for the Energy Futures initiative. Send your thoughts to me or Tom Skerman, the HBRC staffer managing the initiative:
-Tom Belford is a Hawke's Bay regional councillor
-Business and civic leaders, organisers, experts in their field and interest groups can contribute opinions. The views expressed here are the writer's personal opinion, and not the newspaper's. Email: email@example.com