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The Standard

The opportunity cost

Written By: - Date published: 4:33 pm, August 14th, 2013 - 32 comments
Categories: assets, energy, jobs - Tags:

National spent $30m of our money to save (some of) the 800 jobs at Tiwai Point (for an extra year). People have reasonably pointed out that’s the a lot of money for not much – especially when government agencies are routinely destroying jobs by sending work overseas over contract prices that save far less. But what about the broader picture: did the Nats consider the opportunity cost?

Let’s say Rio Tinto didn’t get its paper bag full of our money. Let’s say it then decided to close Tiwai Point as soon as possible (about 2 years under the old contract). That would obviously mean large job losses in Bluff and Invercargill. It would also mean that the transmission lines would be installed so that all Manapouri’s power could flow into the national grid.

Once Tiwai closes, the cheapest power in the country would flood the market (Tiwai currently demands about 14% of our total electricity but at the lowest demand periods, it’s closer to a third). The expensive fossil fuel baseload plants like Huntly would close. Because the current market power price is set by the price of the most expensive unit and because most of our power is quite cheap apart from that fossil fuel shit, it would mean a dramatic reduction in wholesale electricity prices. By the time that flows into retail and commercial prices, you would expect it to be on the order of a 10-20% reduction.

Consider that the country currently spends nearly $6 billion a year on electricity (and Tiwai only $250m of that despite consuming 1/6th of the power). Knock 10% off the price of power, effectively what NZ Power aims to do, and you save power consumers about $600m a year. That’s $600m that businesses can spend on plant and employing people rather than on electricity, and that households can spend on other things or invest in businesses.

And, as a nice bonus, you’ve turned off the most greenhouse polluting power stations and the smelter, which is also a major greenhouse polluter.

So, what does that all add up to? How many jobs get created in the wider economy if Tiwai closes? How much does households’ health benefit from cheaper power? These are all beyond my ability to calculate but they’re the kind of considerations you damn well hope the Government took into account before it cut a cheque for $30m.

Unfortunately, I suspect they didn’t work up the opportunity cost to the country of not caving to Tiwai’s blackmail. Why? Because the country’s interests don’t enter into it. For National, this was all about putting a band-aid in place so the Meridian sale could go ahead – ‘stabilising the electricity market’ Bill English called it without mentioning he was stabilising electricity prices higher than they would otherwise be.

32 comments on “The opportunity cost”

  1. fender 1

    That’s it in a nutshell really. National have nothing but contempt for “mum and dad”.

    • fender 1.1

      It’s a wonder there aren’t rules around artificially influencing the share price just before floating them.

      • The problem is that rules would have to be set by a prior government and thus unless they were entrenched they wouldn’t have any real effect to bind future governments. The best way to bind a government on this would actually be to put it in a trade deal, ironically, but those can still be broken or amended. Even a broad agreement in the UN around these things doesn’t really bind governments from this sort of conflict of interest or corruption, to be honest.

  2. Tamati 2

    Common sense would have been to pay $37,500 (30m/800,000) out to each of the redundant employees. (Could exclude some of the higher paid senior management.)

    • Jenny 2.1

      That $30million of our money has been given to this $billion multinational company, with no sign it will ever be returned to this country. Money that rightly belongs to us. And the smelter will close anyway in 2017. Making 800 workers redundant.

      There is one way that money could come back to New Zealanders.

      An immediate union drive should be launched on the what I understand to be a mostly non-union site.

      The selling point will be that on getting a majority of the 800 workers into the union. That the union promises to start an industrial campaign for a redundancy package no less than the $30million gifted by us to their boss be used to go on top of whatever redundancy package, (if any) they may have already.

      Fair, sensible, achievable.

  3. Jared 3

    I somewhat think you are underestimating the complexity and length of time it would take to upgrade the Cook Strait DC link, they are in the process of upgrading it at the moment and it still only provides power for the Wellington region largely. It would require upgrading most of the North Islands grid (and a number of new inter island cables), but I guess that doesnt make for a good story right?

    [actually, power usually flows North to South these days and the inter-island flows are much smaller than they used to be because of the big factory closures in the Nth Island, new Nth Island generation, and increased demand from dairy and irrigation in the Sth Island. Closing Tiwai would turn that around to the traditional South to North flow, but the Meridian and Transpower bosses have said it’s nothing the system can’t handle – the only major new investment would be connecting Manapouri to Benmore. JH]

    • Molly 3.1

      It makes a good place to start. Especially given the lack of movement on climate change and resilience planning for NZ.

      Limited thinking and no investigation along these lines when making these one-off spending decisions is going to cost NZ more in the long-term. James is right.

    • Satty 3.2

      The new link HVDC pole 3 is already commissioned:
      New HVDC pole 3 commissioned

      I don’t think there are any major further enhancement planed, apart from new cable for pole 2 to add a couple of hundred MW to the existing 1,000 MW capacity.

  4. tricledrown 4

    Tamati what about the $476 million that meridian are handing over to Rio Tinto robbing NZ taxpayers of dividends and lowering the value of meridian !

  5. Plan B 5

    or we could cut the cable and all that power could stay in the south.
    in the south we need cheap electricity , insulated homes because it is simply much colder
    also cheap power will bring jobs
    so please do not improve the cook straight cable on our account

  6. tricledrown 6

    Transpower is already upgrading the national grid to cope with increased demand

  7. tracey 7

    Did I hear a report recently about moves to tax or charge for sunlight to get something from those going solar. Might not have been nz… might have dreamt it

    • Lan 7.1

      “Sunlight captured is Natural capital”! Consumers can value that, but this government does not believe in the idea of Natural Capital so don’t fret over taxes. But one can put a proper taxable economic value on discounted power donated to Tiwai from hydro-over the years. What tax has been paid? Just today similar economic sums include opportunity costs of coal in ground in Huntly (90+more layoffs) apparently now to be replaced with “cheaper” coal from Indonesia; or that to be obtained from the free-for-all big hole (just like in Australia) dug in the Denniston Plateau by a WEST AUSTRALIAN COMPANY – also claimed more “cost effective” and without tunnels and associated risks of explosions etc. Such smart “economics” skills in this resource allocation? Or not. Kiwi electrician killed in what sounds like poor isolated work conditions in a WEST AUSTRALIAN MINE today – went for the big pay too from a good job in Auckland. Hope work conditions are better in the Denniston mucking up our 100% pure Kiwi conservation land.

  8. Ad 8

    - Destroy Bluff and much of Invercargill
    – Snuff out what remains of Huntly
    – For the chance that jobs might be increased elsewhere on something else.
    And this in the month that the National government is sucking hundreds of jobs out of Dunedin (Hillside, NZPost, AgResearch, Health etc), killed the Solid Energy plant for lignite, and is in fact having trouble with the only industry in Southland that will get them into sustained economic recovery in any reasonable horizon: dairy.

    Surely only Aucklanders and Treasury wonks talk out loud like this?

    Why not actually discuss an economic recovery plan for Otago-Southland, not sounding off like some seriously cynical shit?

    • Molly 8.1

      Detroit had the same attitude about maintaining their car industry jobs at all costs. Failure to look ahead meant more pain for all involved in the end.

      Looking ahead, and talking about resiliency includes discussing how the impact can be minimised, and how jobs and communities can transition.

      • Ad 8.1.1

        Just spell that out then. As if Huntly or Bluff or Invercargill or Westport aren’t a whisker away from Detroit already. Unbelievable.
        Spell out where all these replacement jobs come from. Preach it loud to the unemployment lines that result.

        I don’t care what term you have for it.

        Seriously the people who would put Southland’s jobs and many more on a pyre of vanity that thinks electricity prices will ever ever go down rather than actually make happen a real plan – are the worst and most cowardly armchair doodlers.

        • Jenny 8.1.1.1

          As if Huntly or Bluff or Invercargill or Westport aren’t a whisker away from Detroit already.

          ad

          Indeed. The extractive industries have done little or nothing for these places. Huntly particularly. Despite hosting three large coal mines and a coal fired power station Huntly has been deemed a WINZ black spot riddled with unemployment poverty and crime and underdevelopment. Apart from wages. None of the coal industry’s money has gone to this community.

        • IrishBill 8.1.1.2

          Last year WWF commissioned BERL to look at shifting Southland to a low carbon economy: http://www.wwf.org.nz/?9301/New-economic-report

          It’s not comprehensive but it shows there’s already a good foundation for a good regional economy without the smelter. The key will be transitioning it properly rather than just waiting for the smelter to leave and then having to drag the economy out of a hole over a period of years.

          • Ad 8.1.1.2.1

            Helpful link thank you.

            It’s a report that recommends growing nuts, organic farm produce, and pine trees for a lower carbon future. Which is admirable as a narrow goal.

            Manages to avoid discussing the only industry likely to get the south out of trouble, and its the only major industry with real value added potential: dairy.

            • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1.2.1.1

              Dairy, as it’s presently configured, is unsustainable. You don’t get yourself out of a hole by digging deeper.

              • Ad

                Agreed if dairy remains in its predominantly commodity trade mode and rivers remain under-regulated or policed. It won’t.

                But sustainability is not the only measure of success. There are others such as:
                – Are there any retail shops left?
                – Will my kids stay or even return here?
                – How many years will it take me to get a house deposit together?
                – Is the regional tax base getting better, or worse?
                – How many salaries over $100,000 are there per capita in the region?

                Again, I don’t have to like it, but the dairy industry is the only industry with chance of getting affirmative answers to any of those, and is the only likely saviour of Southland.

                What does one do with a smelter and plant nearly 1km long? What would Jim Anderton do?

                • Colonial Viper

                  Welcome to capitalism. As a political economy it has few peers.

                  Where our natural world is turned into a resource and commodity to be transformed into cowshit

                  In exchange for little electronic increments to little electronic bank accounts.

  9. fambo 9

    “Opportunity cost” is a far too challenging economic concept for this government. Its basic economic model is 1980s style asset stripping.

  10. Slowly 10

    Has anyone thought of the exported manufacturing jobs that might return , if the excess Electricity was supplied to them at a competitive rate while recreating work for NZers.

  11. vto 11

    Essentially, it costs the country to have the aluminium smelter here.

  12. Bearded Git 12

    They didn’t give Rio Tinto a cheque for $30 million. Between them, the government and Meridian gave RT a cheque for at least $100 million when the renegotiated power price (back to the price of the previous contract) is taken into account.

    We will never know how much the reduced electricity price cost us because Meridian refuse to reveal this. I don’t think state owned companies should be allowed to hide behind “commercial sensitivity” in cases like this where they are effectively doling out vast amounts of the New Zealand public’s cash to multinationals.

    • Bearded Git 12.1

      This link from the Dom Post today helps to explain my post above and explains National’s agenda, as if the entire nation hadn’t already worked this out!

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/9039551/Government-agenda-drove-Tiwai-payout

    • Draco T Bastard 12.2

      I don’t think state owned companies should be allowed to hide behind “commercial sensitivity” in cases like this where they are effectively doling out vast amounts of the New Zealand public’s cash to multinationals.

      Commercial Sensitivity should not exist when the contract is effectively between the people of NZ and a business because the people of NZ need to know the details to make an informed decision.

  13. Tracey 13

    Thanks for the link bearded one.

  14. tricledrown 14

    Ad hoc policies why can’t every region get the same treatment.
    Another broken promise Shonkey promised Hey wouldn’t
    be picking winners Hey would leave it to the markets.
    Well he’s keept his promise he’s only been backing loosers.
    SCF Tiwae Sky city

    • Ad 14.1

      If different regions did not have different needs there would be no need for regional economic development at all.

      Did you know that only Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury and Waikato are the main local authority areas with population growth? The rest are static or shrinking and will be foreseeably?

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    John Key has now been forced to admit that he never had the broad political support to gut the Resource Management Act, says Labour’s Environment spokesperson Megan Woods. “Cornerstone legislation such as the RMA should never be changed without genuine… ...
    2 days ago
  • National’s changes leave student bodies in chaos
    The chaos created by National’s scrapping of compulsory student association membership may force the 86-year old Union of Students Association to fold, Labour’s Tertiary Education spokesperson David Cunliffe says. “National’s 2011 Voluntary Student Membership Act has left student associations with… ...
    2 days ago
  • Tragedy must be impetus for better training
    The Police Minister needs to explain why unsworn and inadequately trained custody officers were put in a situation of caring for a medically unwell prisoner on a busy Saturday night, Labour’s Police spokesperson Kelvin Davis says. Commenting on an IPCA… ...
    5 days ago
  • Government must be more transparent on investor state clauses
    The Government must be more transparent around the draft investor state dispute settlements in the TPPA, says David Parker, Labour’s Export Growth and Trade spokesperson. “Labour is pro trade, and is proud of the FTA we negotiated with China, which… ...
    5 days ago
  • Protect university staff and student voices
    The Green Party believes ensuring student and staff representation on university councils is important. National recently passed a law reducing the size of university governance councils while increasing the proportion of the members nominated by, guess who… Steven Joyce. The… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes MP
    6 days ago
  • C’mon Nick what’s the truth on the RMA
     “Nick Smith has got to fess up and tell us what is happening to his much vaunted RMA reform, Labour’s Environment spokesperson Megan Woods says.  “With just a day and a half to go before the polls open in Northland,… ...
    6 days ago
  • SSC salaries sink National’s spending spin
    Massive pay rises at the State Services Commission prove National’s claims of clamping down on spending in the public sector are simply fantasy, Labour’s State Services spokesman Kris Faafoi says. “Salaries in this one department are almost $70,000 more than… ...
    6 days ago
  • We can fix Christchurch and keep our assets
    The Christchurch City Council is seeking public feedback on its proposed 10 year plan for Council revenue and spending. This is probably one of the most significant 10 year plans ever to be written by a local council because of… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage MP
    6 days ago
  • Epidemic of serious assaults in our prisons
    Labour wants stab proof vests and pepper spray for all corrections officers to keep them safe from the epidemic of serious prison assaults that are occurring around the country’s jails, says Labour’s Corrections Spokesperson Kelvin Davis.  “There have been five… ...
    6 days ago
  • Listen to the locals Hekia!
    Minister Hekia Parata needs to understand what consultation is, Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson says. “It means you have to listen to what people say in their submissions and then be able to demonstrate you have considered their views when… ...
    1 week ago
  • Thanking our caregivers
    Let’s celebrate and thank our caregivers. This week is caregivers’ week. It’s a chance to acknowledge the thousands of women, and occasional other person, who are caring for the elderly and disabled in our country. They hold people’s lives in… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    1 week ago
  • Mana Post shop the best outcome for community
    Labour MP for Mana Kris Faafoi has welcomed the move to place the services from the Mana Post shop to a local small business. “This is the best outcome for the community we could ask for. All the vital services… ...
    1 week ago
  • Roundup: UN finds it “probably” causes cancer
    At last the UN has spoken out against the widely-used weedkiller Roundup. The UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified glyphosate, the principle ingredient in Roundup, as a probable carcinogen. They also include as probable carcinogens the insecticides… ...
    GreensBy Steffan Browning MP
    1 week ago
  • World water day: eight rivers in one day
    Our photo journey started by the Waioweka (also known as Waioeka) River which flows from Te Urewera to Opotiki, and is surrounded by beautiful forest. The water looked great! Kopeopeo Canal It contrasted greatly with the Kopeopeo Canal near Whakatane,… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty MP
    1 week ago
  • We all benefit when education meets everyone’s needs
    As Dyslexia week comes to a close,  Dyslexia NZ have reminded us that around 10% of our citizens are dyslexic and are entitled to better support. One of their strongest arguments is that failure to provide identification and support for… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty MP
    1 week ago
  • Big change starts small
    Today marks Race Relations Day in New Zealand. Race Relations Day coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The United Nations General Assembly chose this day as it marks the day in 1960 when 69 peaceful… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Israel, Palestine and the question of statehood
    The knife-edge election in Israel complicates the Middle East situation, even more than usual. The Prime Minister-elect, Binyamin Netanyahu, is moving to form a government. Netanyahu has indicated that, during his term, a Palestinian state would not be established. That… ...
    GreensBy Kennedy Graham MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Christchurch transport goes backwards
    The Green Party has a vision of a liveable, accessible Christchurch with a sense of identity and strong connected communities. Instead, 2013 census figures released by Statistics New Zealand reveal a fractured community, and tell a story of frustrated Christchurch commuters… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Super Fund should divest $140 million in high risk coal
    The Green Party is calling on the New Zealand Super Fund to divest their $140 million investment in coal companies that are vulnerable to becoming financially stranded according to a damning new report from Oxford University. The Smith School of… ...
    GreensBy Russel Norman MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Learn to count with Mark Osborne: 0 + 1 = ?
    The adage about the first casualty of war being truth is one that might often be applied to the political battle for hearts and minds, and of course votes. A rather unfortunate example of this has been arriving in the… ...
    GreensBy David Clendon MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Is it still a safety net when the holes are this big?
    Over the last few weeks I’ve been wondering how safe our income support system is for people, especially those with cognitive or learning disabilities. I’ve been trying to support a young man who was severely injured in a workplace accident… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Pasifika – protecting the Pacific needed now more than ever.
    Over the weekend thousands of Aucklanders flocked to celebrate our city’s diverse Pacific communities and cultures at the annual Pasifika festival and the Greens were there to join them. The Pasifika festival has been held every year for 23… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Sounds Stakeholders Seek a Sustainable Future
    It was heartening to see a large number of people who care about the Marlborough Sounds come together at the Marlborough Marine Futures’ forum in Picton on March 8. Fellow Green MP Steffan Browning, who lives in Marlborough, and I… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage MP
    3 weeks ago

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