Powering back to socialist 70s

BusinessNZ calls the Labour/Green plan to nationalise electricity wholesalers economic vandalism.

Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly says the proposal would destroy a functioning market and replace it with heavy-handed bureaucracy.

“Inserting an army of bureaucrats between power generators and retailers would destroy price signals, so prices would not reflect the cost of generation.

“In that situation, the taxpayer would continue to pay ever higher subsidies of the electricity system. This is not sustainable.

“The Electricity Authority said only yesterday that the electricity market is as competitive as it has ever been. It can always be improved, and this is where the focus should be.

“It’s only competition that can drive prices down. Governments can’t do this, not without subsidising the sector from taxes.

“A state-controlled sector as envisaged by Labour would drive out private investment. Why would the private sector invest in generators when the state can determine the prices they can charge, while subsidising state-owned competitors?

“The private sector power companies would have to seriously consider their future in the market. Those who have invested heavily would basically find their profits confiscated.

“Interfering in the market in this way would send a signal to the rest of the world that it is not safe to invest anywhere in New Zealand. The knock-on impact from that, on jobs and growth, would dwarf any short-term benefit from artificially reduced electricity prices,” Mr O’Reilly said.

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges says the Labour-Greens power plan is incoherent and will kill competition in the electricity market.

“Under the previous Government, electricity prices increased by 72 per cent. It has taken the National-led Government’s reforms to arrest these ridiculously steep increases on New Zealand households,” says Mr Bridges.

“The 2010 electricity market restructure is working. The market now has more players and much more competition than it ever had under Labour.

“New Zealanders are increasingly taking advantage of greater competition and are switching companies for a better deal – in some cases, saving up to several hundred dollars a year.

Since the Electricity Authority’s What’s My Number? campaign began in May 2011, there have been almost 700,000 consumer switches.

“Why scrap the whole electricity market when consumers can already save more than the economically illiterate promises the Opposition is making?

“These types of policies have been considered in the past and rejected for very good reasons. Consumers should be very afraid of them. They may look simple but all they will ultimately bring is higher costs to households,” Mr Bridges says.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce calls it a a half-baked Soviet Union-style nationalisation “plan”:

“This is truly wacky and desperate stuff obviously made up in the last minute in the Koru Lounge between comrades Norman and Shearer,” Mr Joyce says.

“Their crazy idea to have both a single national purchaser of electricity and to exempt Government-owned companies from both company tax and dividends would effectively demolish private investment in the electricity industry overnight. It would also raise real questions as to why any individual or company would want to invest in businesses in New Zealand.

“Even the idea of it is economic vandalism of the highest order, with the timing designed to try and disrupt the mixed-ownership company floats. What we are seeing here is a desperate Opposition that is prepared to sacrifice economic development in New Zealand on the altar of political opportunism.

“The sad truth is that Labour has no idea how to operate a competitive market that keeps downward pressure on prices. Labour made a number of reforms to the electricity market in the early 2000s and the result was power prices rising 72 per cent over nine years.

“This Government’s reforms have halved price increases while maintaining investment in generation and transmission. Labour’s suggestion today is no more than a belated apology for their mismanagement, with a back-to-the-70s solution that would only make things worse.

“You seriously have to question the quality of economic advice the Labour Party is getting. They really need to get a lot more serious if they are ever to be considered fit to manage the New Zealand economy.”

It’s not just the government questioning the policy.

Colin Espiner asks has Labour actually gone insane? As in stark, raving, Monster Loony Party mad?

I’m assuming the answer is yes, judging by today’s incredulity-creating announcement that, if elected next year, Labour will essentially nationalise the electricity industry. . .

The Opposition says it’s going to create a single buyer, NZ Power, that will buy all the country’s electricity generation “at a fair price” and then onsell it to consumers. 

It’ll pretty much give away a 300KW bloc to every household and then charge for additional units. 

At a stroke, Labour is proposing to dismantle the electricity market, ruin Contact Energy and Mighty River Power and decimate the Government’s share float plans for both MRP and Meridian. 

Oh, and sell thousands of mum and dad investors down the Mighty River, since MRP’s share price would almost certainly plummet if the company was forced to retail only through a government department at whatever price it deemed to be fair. 

Already Contact shares dipped 3 per cent on the news, and that’s just a taste of what would come if this policy was ever implemented.

I’m no fan of high power prices – and I don’t own any Contact or MRP shares – but what Labour is proposing is essentially nationalisation a la Brazil or Argentina. This is Third World, funny-money stuff. Goodness knows what the financial markets will make of it. And what message does it send to overseas investors? . . .

It’s extremely rare that I agree completely with Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, but his comment today that the plan was “a return to the 1970s-style monopoly provision of electricity…Only North Korea and Venezuela did not think such ideas are nuts” is pretty much spot on.

I agree with Joyce that Labour is virtually sabotaging the economy. 

It is, in my view, also an indication that Labour does not believe it has any hope of winning the next election. In my experience, only political parties that know they have no realistic hope of winning an election propose things they know they will never have to try to implement. . .

There is no virtually about the economic sabotage this policy would inflict.

I was in parliament for Question Time yesterday.

The Government benches were enjoying themselves and Ministers made the most of the opportunity Labour and the Green Party gifted them:

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Electricity Authority yesterday released its review of the electricity market in 2012. The report showed 18 percent of customers, around 32,000 people a month, voted with their feet by switching electricity providers in 2012, presumably for lower prices. For the benefit of the Opposition, that is called “competition”. Since November 2008 annual electricity price increases have halved from the 8 percent year-on-year increases suffered by hard-working New Zealanders during the previous 9 years. This follows a number of pro-competitive reforms by this Government, which apparently the Opposition is not aware of. We have reconfigured State owned enterprise assets to increase competition, created the Electricity Authority and made it responsible for promoting competition, allowed line businesses to compete in the retail space, and funded promotion of consumer switching through the What’s My Number campaign.

Todd McClay: Has the Minister seen any other proposals to try to lower electricity prices?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, weirdly, yes, I have. Just before lunch today I received one report, which I believe came from the “North Korean School of Economics”. Apparently, the suggestion there was that nationalising the entire electricity industry would somehow lead to lower power prices. . .

That got a point of order call from Winston Peters to which the Minister responded:

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If I could perhaps clarify my answer, I should clarify that I received a report from the local branch of the “North Korean School of Economics”.

I’d like to believe Espiner’s theory that this is the policy of parties which know they’ll lose the next election and therefore never have to implement it.

The only other explanation is that the people promoting them are so economically illiterate they don’t understand what they’re talking about.

Either way, it shows they haven’t learned from history because these policies would power us back to the socialist seventies and it would be all downhill from there.

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