Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kerre Woodham: Hard to see how postponing inevitable can save us money

Okay, so my degree wasn't in policy and planning. And I don't pretend to know the first thing about money. I don't even have signing rights to my own chequebook.

But could somebody please tell me how the decision by the Electricity Commission to turn down Transpower's controversial power pylon project is going to save us all money.

The commission chairman acknowledges that it's only delaying the inevitable - at some stage in the near future a new transmission line will have to be installed - but he says that "postponing the inevitable has enormous financial benefit to the country". Right. Like postponing upgrading the roading infrastructure has had enormous benefits for the country. Like delaying the construction of a half-way-decent public-transport system has had huge benefits for Auckland city.

Does the commission chairman think it's going to be easier to get people's support in the future? That no matter what option is chosen a few years down the track, it's going to be cheaper to build than it would be now? It's madness.

He also alluded to the fact that there are other alternatives. Presumably the more eco-friendly ones. But I wouldn't get too carried away with those options either. Look at the furore going on in Australia over the Bald Hills wind farm overlooking Victoria's Gippsland coastline.

The $260 million, 52-turbine farm has been vetoed because a greenie study concluded there was a risk that at least one endangered orange-bellied parrot a year would end up a feather duster thanks to a rotating turbine.

So on that basis the wind farm's been nixed. It's not going to be easy deciding which power generation option to go for.

And you can guarantee that although we don't have endangered orange-bellied parrots, we'll have some precious example of flora or fauna clinging precariously to existence that will need to be protected from whatever proposal is planned.

And wherever the project is sited, there will be hundreds of discontented New Zealanders who don't want it in their backyard.

But tough decisions have to be made. They should have been made years ago in relation to public transport and roading, and they need to be made now in relation to power to ensure Auckland and Northland's continuity of supply.

If not the pylons, then another option. We should be taking responsibility for our current and future needs rather than bludging off the work of our grandparents and expecting our children's generation to make the hard calls we were too selfish to make.

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