Investment New Zealand estimates we could create a high-value, low-carbon export economy worth $150 billion by 2025. PriceWaterhousecoopers have said that, if we make the effort to support it, the renewable energy sector in New Zealand could be worth $22 billion a year. Green Energy creates four times more jobs than oil does. The list of economic advantages is lengthy. The Green movement is about more than saving as much of our planet as we can for our mokopuna, though it certainly is still that, it is also about capitalising on this global shift to create sustainable jobs for them to work in. Environmental stewardship now also comes served with a side of economic development.
Given the huge potential outlined above, you would think the local Chamber of Commerce would be overjoyed by what our energy future could bring the city’s economy. Unfortunately, President Peter McIntyre couldn’t see past his own blinkers, telling the Otago Daily Times that he hopes “there is some common sense and it’s not overrun with green ideologies that misrepresent the average ratepayer and the city to do business in.” In doing so he is ignoring the colour of money because of the colour of the envelope it is being delivered in.
This was essentially a pre-emptive strike. Last week the Dunedin City Council announced they were finally putting together a ten-year Energy Plan to seize the economic opportunities, and rise to the environmental challenges, of our energy future. Save costs, create jobs, secure our energy supply, lessen our carbon footprint. “This is not the Energy Plan!” became their catch-cry, as they emphasised that all they had come up with was a framework, up for discussion, with a timetable for that discussion attached. All the preparatory work the Council have done up until this point has gone into this framing. The mechanism for revision – how often we will be able to go back and change the plan – hasn’t been decided. No feasibility studies have been done on potential actions, that would be pre-supposing the wishes of the community that are to be expressed through the consultation process.
The need for an Energy Plan was identified as part of the Economic Development Strategy signed off last year, with the Chamber of Commerce one of the core stakeholding signatories. When Mr McIntyre complains about “consultation on top of consultation” what he seems be saying is that they were happy enough for the words Energy Plan to be included on the flow chart, so long as they were never expounded upon.
This past Tuesday we learned of New Zealand Post’s plan to close their Dunedin Mail Centre, putting 73 locals out of work. The City is still smarting from KiwiRail’s short-sighted plan to mothball Hillside Workshop. We need to create sustainable jobs in sustainable industries, and to support struggling local enterprise. On Friday I announced a proposal that would not only help the bottom lines of Dunedin businesses, but create local jobs in the process. I want the DCC to extend the Warm Dunedin scheme (offering rates advances repayable at low interest fixed term rates to householders for efficient heating and insulation) to local businesses. This will lower their operating costs, and create jobs in installation and light engineering along the way. The model already exists, it would just mean extending the brief, and when so many solutions will require more investigative work this is something that can hit the ground running on Day One. Neither our environment or our economy has ten years to spare talking about this stuff, we need urgent action on both fronts.
On Saturday, the ODT ran not one but two pieces about how the Government was letting Dunedin die, at the same time ignoring a concrete strategy to insulate us from the whims of central Government. It is always sad when jobs are lost due to centralised services, but the fight for retention needs to be balanced with an eye on the future. It is an odd kind of topsy-turvy land we are living in where the Green Party are pushing pro-business proposals and the Chamber of Commerce President is resisting them. It is time for the blinkers to come off, for everyone interested in the future of Dunedin to take in the bigger picture and get to work trying to shape it in our favour.
The Plan won’t be signed off until the 7th of October, two and a half weeks into the voting period for this year’s local body elections. From here will be two rounds of consultation; initial feedback is being sought until July 26, with more Public Consultation between August 9 – September 9. The question for voters is: Will they let their incumbent Mayor & Councillors sidestep questions about our Energy Plan, suggest no proposals of their own and hold no opinions on those put forward by others? A more cynical person than I might suggest that the timeline the DCC chose is a masterstroke in looking like they’re dealing with the big issues without having to commit to anything concrete. I have more faith than this, and look forward to engaging with candidates seeking re-election on this crucial strategic work.