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Brownlee, not the brightest spark

Written By: - Date published: 10:05 am, May 7th, 2008 - 48 comments
Categories: economy - Tags: ,

Here’s Gerry Brownlee in the Herald today:

Brownlee said the [Whirinaki] power plant, near Napier, was intended as an emergency backup to be used seldomly in dry years.
But he said the figures – from use over 32 days in the three-month period – suggested otherwise.
“Its increased use is more evidence that Labour has failed to future-proof our energy sector’

No, Gerry, it’s not; it is evidence that the system is working as intended. Whirinaki is intended to ensure supply continues in dry years. We are in a dry year and the New Plymouth natural gas power plant at is off-line for upgrading. Whirinaki is running at well-under full power (2.3% of capacity in January, 6.5% in February) to cover the short-fall, just as it was intended to do.

Brownlee is also huffing that 7.6 million litres of diesel have been burnt this year by Whirinaki. But that is replacing gas that would have been burnt in New Plymouth. If the New Plymouth plant were operational, the Whirinaki plant would not be running (both are used as reserve but New Plymouth is used first by Contact as it’s own reserve and Whirinaki is the Electricity Commission’s back-stop reserve). Ironically, the Whirinaki plant is actually more fuel efficient than the old New Plymouth plant, so we may well be getting more bang for our buck (and more power per kg of carbon dioxide).

Brownlee is clueless on electricity, and he wants to be your Energy Minister come November.


48 comments on “Brownlee, not the brightest spark”

  1. Benodic 1

    You should’ve heard him up against David Parker on Morning Report the other day. Parker was on top of his brief and had all the facts and arguments at his fingertips. Brownlee was a shouting buffoon.

    Regardless of my politics I’d simply rather have an energy minister who knows what he’s doing. The thought of “sexy coal” Brownlee being responsible for our energy supply scares me.

  2. Santi 2

    “Brownlee is clueless on electricity, and he wants to be your Energy Minister come November.”

    I prefer him any day over the dim-witted David Parker, who was trying to impose his harebrained ETS on New Zealand, and who has now been overruled by his masters Cullen and Clark.

    The socialist Labour government only backed down due to political pressure.

  3. Yes it does sound like Gerry Brownlee was trying to manufacture a scandal: but I understand that is the function of the opposition. I guess David Parker will be in the same position post November.

    It does however raise an interesting question of how Labour is going to handle the Greens “keep coal in the hole” policy. Given current polling Labour is going to need them to have any chance of hanging onto power. Where does that leave our security of supply ?

  4. Damn, I forgot to comment using my whizzy new Gravitar ID. Congratulations on implementing this, it is a great innovation.

  5. We burn very little of the coal we produce. Most of it is exported and most of the coal we consume is imported (different grades), so its not a energy supply issue for us, it’s an export earnings issue.

  6. Steve: thanks. So why don’t we burn more for electricity generation ?

    I know Solid Energy has a vested interest but I found these two quotes on their website interesting:
    “New coal-based electricity generation could maintain the wholesale electricity rate at near current prices – 5 to 6c/kWh – for hundreds of years.” “These increase the efficiency of coal-based electricity generation from 25-40% to 50% plus and pollutant emissions can be reduced to near zero,” said Dr Elder. “http://www.coalnz.com/index.cfm/1,212,587,49,html/Record-Year-for-Coal-Producer

  7. insider 8


    Agree with you on this – I think there is a military axiom along the lines of not much point having reserves if you don’t deploy them.

    Minor point, WHirinaki is more likely substituting at present for hydro. NP was a baseload winter plant and may not have been running at this time of year if lakes were fuller. There is adequate energy around at the moment, the issue is that we need to conserve water. So yes if NP was around it would probably be fulfilling that role but mainly to conserve water.

    capcha –James pinkos

  8. Tane 9

    Steve, best avatar ever.

  9. insider 10


    On coal I think Huntly does use a fair bit of Waikato coal but that can’t meet demand so imports indonesian.

    Why not buid more coal, well I suspect because the coal is in the south and the demand is in the north, and who in Auckland (which is where the need is) and I doubt anyone wants a new coal plant there. Building it close to the lignite supplies presents big issues in terms of getting it to market.

  10. Tane. for some reason I can’t see it. In fact I can’t see half of the avatars.

    I feel so left out.

    [lprent: client side caching. You could tell your cache to empty, or just wait a while]

  11. Also, we don’t want to build more coal because we’re trying to move away from carbon emitting generation, and coal is the worst..

    captcha: Mrs hints… how intriguing

  12. Tane 13

    It’s an ongoing dilemma: Coal miners, awesome. Coal, sucky.

    Though neither are particularly “sexy”.

  13. higherstandard 14


    Is that the old symbol for the British Labour Party ?

  14. Insider: so are you saying its more efficient to ship coal from Indonesia than the South Island ?

    Insider/Steve: What about clean coal technology ? As an Aucklander I would probably choose a clean coal fired plant in Auckland over expensive or unreliable electricity or dealing with greedy Waikato farmers. Think back to the Auckland CBD transmission line failure last decade & the farm of diesel generators in Queen St: I think most people will choose reliable electricity over the environment .

  15. Matthew Pilott 16

    Tane – hang out in Reefton long enough and you’ll change your mind.

    I gather our coal is top-quality and ‘too good’ to be used in power generation, hence exporting it. the coal we import is of a lower grade.

    I’d have though after his last foray into Whirinaki’s output and diesel use, Brownlee would have learned. Once bitten, twice as dim.

  16. outofbed 17

    Contast and compare the bio for these two candidates for Illam
    Gerry Brownlee:National
    Kenny Graham : Green

    Gerry was born and educated in Christchurch and has lived in the Ilam electorate all his life.

    After leaving St Bede’s College, Gerry began his career in the family timber business. He trained to be a carpenter, gained several trade qualifications and operated his own business.

    In 1980 Gerry trained as a secondary school teacher and, taught at Ellesmere College for five years. He was appointed Head of the Technical Department at St Bede’s College, where he taught until 1995.

    KENNDY GRAHAM is currently a Senior Adjunct Fellow at the School of Law at Canterbury University. He has received Fulbright and Fletcher scholarships, a McCarthy Fellowship (1986), and was Quartercentenary Fellow at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, England (1995). Dr. Graham served in the NZ foreign service for 16 years, specializing in global security and the UN, his last diplomatic assignment being counsellor in the NZ Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. He has lived and worked in nine countries in Asia, the Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.
    From 1999 to 2004 he worked for the United Nations University, first as Director of its Leadership Academy (Amman, Jordan; 1999-2002); then as director of its Regional Security & Global Governance Project (Bruges, Belgium; 2002-4). In 2004 he was commissioned to provide a paper for the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Paper on Threats, Challenges and Change.

    In 2005-6 he has been Senior Consultant to the UN’s Dept. of Political Affairs in New York, assisting in the preparation and convening of the Secretary-General’s high-level meetings, and the Security Council’s meetings, with regional organizations.

  17. outofbed 18

    bloody blockqoutes

    [lprent: I see what you mean – they’re there in the comment code, but not displaying. They even have the correct spelling. I’ll look into it tonight]

  18. Patrick 19

    Not sure if anyone picked up on this, but Vector is planning on finally upgrading their Cook Strait cable…


    Which will undoubtedly help the situation.

  19. Santi 20

    That Green candidate Kenny Graham appears to have never done anything productive in his life! From academia to the useless United Nations (advising that honest and bright Kofi Annan).

    Impressive titles and positions, yes. But what has he done other than drawing a fat cheque every month?

  20. Yeah. because that’s all those positions exist for, Santi. Academia, the United Nations,New Zealand Foreign Affairs… they’re all just cons to trick you out of your money.

    maw. appearently, it’s different grades of coal – I know, it sounds stupid to me too but I’m not a coal expert. Clean coal, it ain’t here yet.

  21. Tane. that picture’s from your wedding day, eh?

  22. Tane 23

    Civil union, clearly.

  23. mondograss 24

    The West Coast coal is “coking” coal and is used by the steel industry as it’s needed to support a blast furnace (i.e. burn very hot circa 2000 deg). What you burn in a power station is “thermal” coal and is used to boil water to make steam to drive the turbines. It doesn’t burn as hot (since water boils at 100 deg). Essentially coking coal is very high quality and thermal coal is everything that’s not coking coal quality.

  24. Matthew Pilott 25

    mondo – cheers. That explains why our coal goes to China, and we import coal from elsewhere.

    Steve, you know Santi’s right. Academia is useless, if it can’t give you a half-yearly profit then it’s a waste of time. Clearly.

    Cap – dixie boycott – this what happens if Obama is selected for the Democrats?

  25. I know what you mean Matthew. Just think of all those useless academics – Einstein, Newton, Oppenheimer, just to name three physicists. then there are all those useless academics learning more about human biology, psychology, social behaviour, and what ever comes out of their work except better health treatments, better food, better living environments, better teaching and rehabilitation methods etc etc. then there’s a the academics who worked out the electronics and information theory that lets me talk to you over the interweb. or people like Kennedy Graham who do work on jurisprudence and legal theory, as well as teaching the practice of law to young people so that we can continue to live in a functioning state and international system governed by the rule of law.

    waste of time

  26. insider 27


    it is obviously more efficient to import coal from Indonesia otherwise why would it be done? I think Solid Energy are talking about generating energy close to the fuel source and exporting that rather than bulk coal. There are major economic and technical issues with exporting more energy from Southland. Could also be that Huntly is not suitable for burning lignite or that the price is much lower.

    Clean coal doesn’t exist, it’s a possibility only at this stage. I’m sure it can be done but at what cost?

    IF you have to go back 10 years for a power cut that was not only very isolated in terms of impact and due to local lines infrastructure than lack of energy, you have a very different definition of unreliability than me.

    How would a new power station have solved that? It’s like saying the answer to the affect of a washed out road on your travel plans is replacing your family sedan with a mack truck.

  27. Steve: thanks, that makes sense now re Indonesia.

    My concern about limiting productivity growth through additional “greenhouse” taxes is that it limits our ability to generate the money we need to invest in new technologies like “clean coal”.

    “With coal likely to remain one of the nation’s lowest-cost electric power sources for the foreseeable future, President Bush has pledged a new commitment to even more advanced clean coal technologies.”http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/cleancoal/

  28. Bearhunter 29

    Amazing that Brownlee has a more working-class bio than Graham. Much as I abhor the fat b*stard, I still think that – notwithstanding all the whole “human biology, psychology, social behaviour, and what ever comes out of their work except better health treatments, better food, better living environments, better teaching and rehabilitation methods etc etc”, I’d rather have a carpenter with me if I was shipwrecked on a desert island than an academic.

  29. insider: the Greens used the RMA ( and proudly trumpeted the fact in their recent promotional video) to block Project Aqua. Labour has said they won’t allow fossil fuels for electricity (if they remain in power of course). That leaves geothermal, wind, tidal & nuclear.

    Nuclear appears to be coming in from the cold with a few brave commentators starting to question the superstitious nonsense that led us down the anti-nuclear path ( e.g. Bryan Leyland). However I don’t think I will see a nuclear electricity plant in NZ in my lifetime.

    The Kaipara tidal scheme has the potential, I understand, to generate 3% of our current load if not our future load. I imagine it will be an RMA nightmare with all the sandal wearing snapper huggers lining up to lodge objections.

    Replacing our thermal plant with wind would take a large area of wind farms, these would inevitably be subject to significant frustration by the RMA jockeys.

    Meanwhile we have hundreds of years of cheap energy locked up in coal.

  30. Matthew Pilott 31

    Mawg – the Great Hope at present has got to be hydro-stream generation, the Cook Strait Tidal trubine plan. From memory it’s not exactly on the rails at present, but simply put, you put whopping great turbines undersea, where there’s a solid, consistent current.

    The Cook Strait being one of the better spots apparently. I heard figures of 8000MW being bandied about. Imagine a wind turbine with a far more consistent energy input, and a medium 800+ times the density.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_stream_power Check out the reference #2, in regards to the Cook Strait.

    When you are talking about ‘clean coal’ are you referring to Carbon Sequstration? The idea has merit – whilst carbon is nasty stuff in the atmosphere, extracting it from the exhaust of a coal-fired power station, and you have big cubes of non-toxic black stuff. Could be worse!

    However the idea is very much in its infancy (as are tidal stream turbines), though if developed could save the world, in a rather literal sense.

  31. mondograss 32

    The Neptune power turbines about to be trialled in Cook Strait have a lot of potential IMHO, probably more than the Kaipara concept.

    Clean coal is something of a misnomer though, it’s not that it’s clean, it’s just that you do something with the emissions rather than releasing them into the atmosphere. We still don’t have any real idea of how to do that efficiently, nor do we really know what the long term effects could be of the suggested approaches. Filling coal mines or oil wells with recaptured carbon may well lead to leaching and contamination that hasn’t been considered. After all, there’s nothing to suggest the recaptured carbon is more (or less) stable or toxic than what you’re taking out of the ground, we simply don’t know.

    Hydro still has potential, but Aquas biggest problem was it’s scale and the fact that it was doing it in an area that had so much existing recreational usage. Geothermal has a lot of potential in NZ too.

    I think with regards to nuclear, people have lost the fear of it, but it’s still not right for NZ. The economics aren’t there because it simply doesn’t scale down for an economy as small as ours. The smallest plant you can get is about 1GW, which is just under 10% of NZ’s total usage. They cost $bn’s to build at that size and then what happens when it needs maintenance (and lets face it, you want to do that maintenance). You still have to cover the shortfall for weeks at a time (takes about 6 weeks to shutdown and restart a reactor). Then of course, which of NZ’s many fault lines do you build it on? So really, you’re no better off.

    I still think solar has a lot more potential to be realised and there have been some good gains in this field with Massey scientists developing solar fabrics etc.

    The ultimate situation is that power generation will come from many different and complementary sources for many years to come. There is no silver bullet.

  32. Matthew Pilott 33

    mondograss – think we wrote that at roughly the same time. Last I recall hearing, the Strait wasn’t progressing very well – I gather that may not be the case from what you’re saying. Do you have any info about the trial or what’s happening there?

    A note about Aqua – it used the same water as a sizeable percentage of our current power generation, and would therefore be succeptable to the same vagaries in climate.

    And w.r.t. nuclear generation – my thoughts exactly – a baseload generator can’t be such a huge percentage of total output. We also have a significant lack of requisite people to build and maintain such a plant – and with international demand hotting up, I don’t think it’s the time to get into the market for nuclear power technicians.

    I think a lot of New Zealanders are saying they’re pro-nuclear because they see the anti-nuclear movement as a PC Nanny-State Green-Wacko kind of thing and they’re frustrated by the bombardment of doomsday information regarding peak oil and climate change – in reality, they haven’t given it any rational thought. There are clearly better alternatives for NZ.

  33. Ari 34

    Wow Matthew, I’m quite impressed that you took the rational route to making your decision on nuclear power after seeing you beat up a candidate just because their work was a little too academic for you.

    Apparently prejudice isn’t universal 😉 Whether someone is “working class” or not matters a lot less in politics than whether they can act as an effective proxy FOR the working class individuals. In that respect, Kennedy Graham looks a lot more attractive to me than Gerry Brownlee- but then again, I am a Green. 🙂

    The fact is that Gerry, like most Nats, seems to like to conveniently ignore the way things are actually functioning in this country, like say the power plant in question, in order to “spin” the truth to his favour. (this is also known as “lying” in some circles) If he wants to be in charge of our nation’s energy supply, he needs a much better grip on how we manage our backup power in dry years, which plants are most efficient in order to conserve water or for emergency backup generation, and what our strategy should be to expand our ability to deal with dry years. So far, his modus operandi seems to be empty criticism without offering better alternatives. If I were choosing people to be stuck with on a desert island, I’d much prefer someone who can make a choice effectively to someone who can criticise one without getting his facts straight, or even correcting them afterwards.

  34. outofbed 35

    I’d rather have a carpenter with me if I was shipwrecked on a desert island than an academic.

    Yes I agree but having met both Brownlee and Graham.
    In this case I would prefer the academic over the chippie

  35. Felix 36

    Desert island, Bearhunter? Are you ****ing serious?
    It’s not an episode of Survivor. He wants to be the minister responsible for energy.

  36. Matthew: “I think a lot of New Zealanders are saying they’re pro-nuclear” , do you have a link to a published poll on that ?

    As you say the earthquake & cost issues probably make nuclear a non-starter for New Zealand but I understand that there was work done in the seventies looking at siting one north of Auckland.

  37. Bearhunter 38

    “Desert island, Bearhunter? Are you ****ing serious?
    It’s not an episode of Survivor. He wants to be the minister responsible for energy.”

    Yes, I am serious. I’d rather have a doer than a theoretician.

  38. Bearhunter 39

    By the way, Gerry grandstanding is just that. He is politicking here, trying to make Labour look bad. And it appears to be working. The problem with power supply in this country has been that people have been trying to amke a network designed to supply 3 million people supply four million people. It’s down to 30 years of short-sighted nopn-investment by governments of all stripes.

  39. insider 40


    what non investment are you talking about?

  40. Felix 41

    Which ten albums would you like him to bring?

  41. Matthew Pilott 42

    Ari – my comment on academia was sarcastic, though I guess it’s not always that apparent – I am trying to resist using smileys but they do serve their purpose!

    Mawg – no, not sure if there has been a poll on the topic as such. In saying that “I think a lot of New Zealanders are saying they’re pro-nuclear because they see” I didn’t mean that there was a large increase in people who are pro-nuclear (not that I’m aware of anyway), but that of those who are, their reasons are the ones I detailed.

    Have a look through
    http://tinyurl.com/5gz54w (link to NZHerald site)
    for a selection of thoughts. The related story actually has info about a poll on nuclear power.

  42. r0b 43

    Yes, I am serious. I?d rather have a doer than a theoretician

    A doer, a carpenter, I guess you’re stuck on your island with Bob (the Builder) Clarkson. Enjoy!

    Less facetiously, both theoreticians and practitioners are equally necessary. Those who sneer at “blue collar workers” are snobs, and those who sneer at academics are just one step removed from book burners.

  43. Felix 44

    He said a doer, not a nutscratcher. I don’t think Bob and an island is a party anyone wants to be invited to.

    As for carpentry, I’ve worked in that field for a few years myself and while I consider that my skills would indeed be handy in a “stuck on an island” type of scenario I don’t believe that they in any way qualify me to be Minister for Energy.

  44. mondograss 45

    Regarding the Cook Strait trial, this is the most recent thing I’ve seen so I’m guessing they’ve worked out whatever bugs they were having and are going to trial, hopefully to calm some of the issues around the effect on marine life as well as doing a P.O.C.


  45. Macro 46

    M P

    “I think a lot of New Zealanders are saying they’re pro-nuclear because they see’ I didn’t mean that there was a large increase in people who are pro-nuclear (not that I’m aware of anyway), but that of those who are, their reasons are the ones

    1 in 5 is 20%…

    Now when I was at school that was way less than 51% which would represent a SLIGHT majority.

    I fail to see how you (or the Herald for that matter) can get a MAJORITY out of 20%.

  46. Matthew Pilott 47

    Macro, you’ve misread what I said, though I admit it’s not that clear.

    When I said “a lot of new Zealanders” I meant of the New Zealanders who hold the view in qustion (pro-nuclear), I believe many do so for the reasons I mentioned. “a lot” doesn’t mean more than 50% in any event.

    I also didn’t say ‘majority’ anywhere – when I was at school you weren’t meant to make things up either! Didn’t see it in the Herald article either…

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    3 weeks ago
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