Warmth for everybody

It appears I’m the newest addition to Green Voices. I had meant to write myself a proper introduction, and explain why I joined the Greens back in ’02 and why I remain a member, but that might wait til the next post.

The insulation debate is raging however (at The Standard and elsewhere), and it’s a topic close to my heart. I’ve already written at length about why I care about this policy, and why it is such a good idea to do something about it.

National are planning on scrapping the insulation fund won from Labour by the Greens, and are likely to be successful. There are a number of reasons why, and a number of things that should be done.

Labour promised $1 billion over 15 years for insulation of houses. This was a relatively small annual amount (especially when compared to the many billions spent on new roads). It was introduced at such a late stage that few people have yet been affected, and have much emotional stake in keeping it. Furthermore, it was not widely targeted, meaning that most voters even if they were aware, were going to think of it as ‘something somebody else will get the benefit from’, especially as it was something that would not affect most renters due to uptake for landlords being voluntary. A textbook example of a good idea legislated badly.

The Greens had been trying to convince the Govt to introduce real support for insulation since 1999, and were consistently brushed off. The fund was a hard fought concession during ETS negotiations, and something that the Government had little desire to implement, and it shows in the design of the policy. A wasted opportunity.

The policy won from Labour only affected ‘low income’ NZers, and left much of the rest of the population out in the cold, literally. They saw little or no benefit, and this may have contributed to the perception that the last Labour Government was one that was interested in ‘other people’ and not in their interest. Research has shown that even moderate and high income earners live in cold houses and defer investment in insulation over other spending.

The election demonstrated that the Greens are currently failing in their targeting of a large number of electorates. A universal scheme is needed, and Green insulation policy could be used to create purchase with these communities. If the policy is to be as successful as it needs to be, and a potential election issue, it must be visible to the wider population, especially ‘non-core’ potential Green voters.

So what to do? To some extent these suggestions are already being followed, so it’s really a question of emphasis. Talk about having every home in NZ warm, dry, and insulated. Every one. That people should not have to go overseas to be comfortable. Talk about saving hundreds of dollars from winter power bills. Talk about having healthy children. Talk about having some of the coldest houses in the OECD, and that how people in Norway, Sweden, Germany and Canada live with much colder winters but enjoy warm and dry houses. Lowering emissions is important of course, but people living in cold houses need to have a message that emphasises their own experiences first and foremost. It would be a popular policy. The Greens need to win at least 10% in the next election, and policies like this one will help get those 300,000+ voters.

There are a number of implementation mechanisms, but far as I’ve been able to tell, the most successful practice internationally has been low or zero interest loans for homeowners living in their own homes (Worldchanging has an article well worth reading). These allow people to purchase immediately, enjoy the benefits while they pay it off, and the Government wears only the cost of foregone interest. The loans can also be tied to the property, so that the next owner takes over the loan. This allows the Government to offer it to everybody, as the cost is much lower than full or partial subsidies, and the resulting gain in political capital is large. A scheme that benefits the great majority of the population is much harder to scrap. The amount paid back can even be linked to the amount saved in power/gas bills, allowing it to be marketed as zero cost. The Labour-negotiated policy mandated full subsidies for low income earners, and limited interest rebates for middle income earners. The orientation of the scheme should be changed and limits scrapped or taken much higher.

The same loans should be offered to rental owners, but these should be accompanied with a phased in requirement to insulate, as uptake is likely to be too slow or patchy otherwise. Many will insulate and make houses efficient, but some will see no commercial advantage in doing so and will need encouragement. These might form a vocal minority, but this is a policy worth fighting for. (And backing down only encourages opponents, rather than dampening their resolve)

A higher standard for new housing would also help, but only around 1% of housing annually is new, so this takes a long time to see any real impact and should be considered as separate to this policy. Improving the existing housing stock must be the priority.

I’d also like to see the idea of low/zero interest loans extended to other bright ideas, but that can wait for another post!

It’s time to see the light Gerry

It seems that Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee might be having a rethink of National’s ridiculous pre-election position of opposing the Household Lighting Efficiency Standard that would see the phase-out of inefficient incandescent bulbs for household lighting purposes.

NZPA has reported:

A newspaper today reported a National staffer saying the phase out would not go ahead but Mr Brownlee would not confirm that.

Mr Brownlee said officials at the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority were doing some work on the issue.

“We’ll be making an announcement about that in due course,” Mr Brownlee said.

Steve Pierson at The Standard thinks this is a backflip by Brownlee [EDIT: Steve Pierson acknowledges he got it wrong and has now edited his post]. I wouldn’t go that far, as no decision has yet been made, but it is an optimistic sign that Brownlee has asked EECA to do some work on the issue rather than make a knee-jerk political decision that is not supported by the evidence. I’m confident that he will recieve the same professional science-based advice from EECA that Jeanette Fitzsimons received when she was Energy Efficiency Spokesperson for the last government – advice that supports the introduction of the new efficiency standard.

Even China, hardly an environmental paragon on the world stage, are phasing out incandescent bulbs. So are Australia and Great Britain. Surely this is not an issue that Brownlee wants New Zealand to be seen as dragging the chain on. If it does turn out to be a flip-flop, it is one I will support him on.

Showering with Jeanette

The punters are running feral over at Kiwiblog, inspired by Jeanette’s appearance on Close Up last night defending the proposed energy efficient home hot water standard. Most are trotting out the tired old “nanny state” line and falsely claiming the Greens are wanting to ban high pressure shower heads.

And someone called Brad got so excited about it that he’s come to g.blog and posted a comment (naming his bathroom with capital letters) in the g.blog rules thread, because he couldn’t find anywhere else appropriate.

So I thought I’d give Brad a thread to comment on, and clear a few matters up.

First, this is not a ban on anything. No-one will be forced to change their shower head. The standard will apply only to new buildings and to major renovations. The proposal is for new homes to have more energy efficient hot water systems. An efficient hot water system will save homeowners money by lowering power and gas bills.

Second, there a several ways in which the standard will be able to be met, including:

  • installing low flow shower heads
  • insulating/lagging water pipes to minimize heat loss
  • minimizing the distance between the hot water source and the outlet
  • installing a solar water heating system

But instead of doing some research and finding out about it, the Kiwiblog commenters and Brad just resort to the tired old “nanny state” / “it’s a ban” routine that they inevitably use to attack the Greens. I’m surprised they didn’t come up with a high pressure energy inefficient shower head being necessary for effective child discipline too.