Megan Woods fails to spark when answering questions about energy hardship

Is Megan Woods  setting herself   up  to be  the   next  Minister to follow Clare Curran on to Labour’s back benches? No, that wouldn’t be  right:  Meka Whaitiri  appears  to  be  next  in line there.

But  Energy and Resources Minister Woods  has hardly  been an   impressive  performer, even though  she’s on the  government’s front bench.  Remember  her performance over  the  banning of  any further  offshore   oil and gas  exploration?

This week  she tied herself  in  knots   answering  questions  in Parliament  on retail  electricity  prices.

She said  the   government  was  “proud”  to have  released  the  first phase  of  a  review of the electricity market  which identified  there is a two-tier market  developing, with  103,000 households  defined  as being  in  energy hardship.

We  do see that  as a problem.”

National’s  energy spokesman,  Jonathan  Young,  asked her  whether   she would  guarantee electricity prices  would be  lower  in the next three years  than they have been in  the  last  three  years.  She   replied:

What I can guarantee that member is that this is a Government that is committed to seeing those 103,000 households who are in energy hardship offered some release. We will be looking for remedies”.

Young  had  another  stab   at getting  an answer:

Does she agree with the Electricity Price Review chair’s comments yesterday that the sharing of costs may need to be reallocated, and if so, how should they be reallocated?”

Woods replied:

I again point the member to the fact that this is phase one of a two-part review. I absolutely agree with the chair of the Electricity Price Review, Miriam Dean, who has done a wonderful job and produced a very accessible document, that these are questions that we need to think about. What we have seen since the 1990s is a 79%  increase in electricity prices for households. That has not been matched by business or industry, and that is a conversation that we need to have from here”.

This would give Yes Minister’s Jim Hacker a run for his money.

So  those   103,000  households  suffering   energy  hardship  may have a  long  wait  for  a  remedy  from our Energy and Resources Minister.

Unless,  of  course, they shop around  and  find a  retailer   which  will offer them  a  better  deal.

The  second phase of the   report   won’t be  completed   until  some time next year.

Woods  keeps  harping  on   about a  79% increase  in electricity prices for  households since  1990,  but in fact  the  retail  market has been  very competitive in the  last  four or  five  years.   It is  in  the  monopoly part of the  sector,  with the  lines  companies,  that charges  have  been rising.

The  real  conundrum  is  to   position  the  distribution  sector   for  new  technologies, particularly   if  the  switch  by households  to  solar energy and of  transport to EVs, gathers  momentum.  The  lines  companies  will  still be  needed  as  backup,  but  who  will pay  their  future costs?

Most of the  big  power companies argue  the electricity market  is largely delivering fair, efficient, reliable, and sustainable outcomes for  consumers.  Meridian  Energy, for  example,  contends  the government needs to take a  considered approach when attempting to  fix wider  social and  affordability issues  to ensure it  doesn’t negatively impact on competition, or the  investment needed to maintain security  of  supply and thereby  delay  transition to a  low-emissions  economy.

The  Productivity Commission – in its  recent  report – warned  of the need to be  wary  of changes in the electricity  sector that have the unintended impact of driving price increases  which slow down the electrification of  transport  and the transformation of the thermal-powered  industrial  plant  in  NZ.

Other  authorities   point out that NZ  has plenty  of  natural  gas and will need to use it to keep its transition to a lower-carbon economy affordable for homes and industry.

Pity about that  ban on oil and gas exploration.


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