As the Zero Carbon Bill works its way through Parliament, it is clear that we’ll need to change the way we do things in order to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Petrol cars and trucks will be replaced by battery-powered electric vehicles. Industrial heat for milk drying and heating buildings will switch from coal-fired boilers to electric furnaces. Home heating will move away from gas and coal burners to electric heat-pumps and clean wood burners.
There will be a fair bit of expense in expanding electrical generation and replacing and retrofitting hardware. Who will pay for this transition?
Under the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme, industry will make the transition by increased investment, in order to avoid spending money on emissions credits. At some point, it will be more cost-effective to replace fossil fuel infrastructure, machinery and rolling stock with electric. If all goes smoothly, money will flow from corporate coffers into either new equipment or ever more expensive emissions credits, or both, as our economy gradually weans itself off fossil fuels.
So, what about the people? How will we make the transition? At the moment, the personal cost-benefit economics of electric cars, heat pumps, and solar panels are marginal. They all call for a significant up-front investment to be offset by savings in years to come. Without low interest loans from our utility companies, councils or central government, most people will not be able to afford them.
Here in Marlborough, we are lucky that our District Council has a low interest loan program to help ratepayers install clean home heating, insulation, solar water heaters and solar panels. What about New Zealanders who aren’t so lucky?
So, here is the challenge: A good number of Kiwis, through hard work, good fortune or circumstance, live comfortable lives. Many can make the investment in the low-emissions hardware our future requires with little financial pain. Perhaps they can lead the charge by being the first to invest in our low-emissions all-electric future.
The economic benefits to our society are clear. The more electric cars there are on the road, the more affordable second hand electric cars will be. The more heat pumps and solar panels installed, the more suppliers there will be and the lower the price, due to increased competition and larger economies-of-scale in production. More solar generation comes with the added benefit of producing more electricity to share without the need for additional wind farms, power plants and hydroelectric dams, all of which have shortcomings with respect to local communities, the environment and biodiversity.
On a social level, the signalling is also clear. When we invest in these low-emissions technologies, we show our neighbours that we are committed to help in the energy transition. We show our children and grandchildren that we care about their future. And, we show the world that Kiwis are a special breed of creature who are ready to step up and do what is necessary when the world needs it. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.