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?

Links to post

Leave a Comment

Show Tags

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Nats’ housing policy fails to keep pace with population growth
    Auckland got less than half the new houses it needed in the past year to keep up with record population growth, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    1 day ago
  • Urgent action needed on dirty rivers
    The Our Fresh Water Environment 2017 report re-confirms that we need urgent action to clean up our rivers. Meanwhile, National is standing by as our rivers get even more polluted, says Labour’s Environment spokesperson David Parker. “This report is yet ...
    2 days ago
  • Where there’s smoke and mirrors, there’s Steven Joyce
    Steven Joyce’s much vaunted pre-Budget speech is simply an underwhelming response to the infrastructure deficit National has created, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Steven Joyce has belatedly come to the realisation that everyone else has a long time ago, ...
    2 days ago
  • Time to stamp out cold, mouldy rentals
    New figures show a small number of landlords are letting down the sector by renting cold, mouldy rentals. These houses need to be brought up to a decent standard for people to live in by Andrew Little’s Healthy Homes Bill, ...
    3 days ago
  • Time for fresh approach on immigration
    Latest figures showing another record year for immigration underlines the need for an urgent rethink on how this country can continue to absorb so many people, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “New Zealand needs immigrants and is all the better ...
    3 days ago
  • Bring back the Mental Health Commission
    The People’s Mental Health Review is a much needed wake up call for the Government on mental health, says the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.   “I applaud their proposal to restore a Mental Health Commission and their call for ...
    5 days ago
  • And the band played on…
    Making Amy Adams the Housing Minister five months out from the election is just the orchestra playing on as National’s Titanic housing crisis slips below the waves – along with the hopes and dreams of countless Kiwi families, says Labour’s ...
    5 days ago
  • Hotel no place for children in care
    ...
    1 week ago
  • Maybe not, Minister? Nick Smith’s housing measure suppressed
    Sir Humphrey: Minister, remember the Housing Affordability Measure work you asked us to prepare back in 2012? Well, it’s ready now.Minister Smith: Oh goodie, what does it say?Sir Humphrey: Nothing.Minister Smith: Nothing?Sir Humphrey: Well, sir, you asked us to prepare ...
    1 week ago
  • Inflation data shows many New Zealanders are worse off under National
    The latest inflation data from Statistics New Zealand shows that too many New Zealanders are now worse off under the National Government, said Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson “Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) is now running at 2.2 per cent, and ...
    1 week ago
  • Another emergency housing grant blow out
      Emergency housing grants data released today show another blow out in spending on putting homeless people up in motels, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.   ...
    1 week ago
  • Families struggle as hardship grants increase
    The considerable increase in hardship grants shows that more and more Kiwi families are struggling to put food on the table and pay for basic schooling, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. ...
    1 week ago
  • More tinkering, no leadership from Nats on immigration
    National’s latest tinkering with the immigration system is another attempt to create the appearance of action without actually doing anything meaningful, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    1 week ago
  • Suicide figures make for grim reading
    The 506 suspected suicides of Kiwis who have been in the care of mental health services in the last four years show that these services are under severe stress, says Labour’s Health spokesperson David Clark.   “If you do the ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Pay equity deal a victory for determination and unions
    The pay equity settlement revealed today for around 55,000 low-paid workers was hard-won by a determined Kristine Bartlett backed by her union, up against sheer Government resistance to paying Kiwis their fair share, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “Labour welcomes ...
    2 weeks ago
  • DHB’s forced to make tough choices
    The Minister of Health today admitted that the country’s District Health Boards were having to spend more than their ring fenced expenditure on Mental Health, says Labour’s Health spokesperson David Clark.   “The situation is serious with Capital and Coast ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Nats break emergency housing pledge – deliver just five more places
    Despite National’s promises of 2,200 emergency housing beds, just 737 were provided in the March Quarter, an increase of only five from six months earlier, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Research underlines need for KiwiBuild
    New research showing the social and fiscal benefits of homeownership underlines the need for a massive government-backed building programme like KiwiBuild, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Social data security review too little, too late
    The independent review into the Ministry of Social Development’s individual client level data IT system is too little, too late, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. “The Minister of Social Development has finally seen some sense and called for ...
    2 weeks ago
  • More questions raised on CERA conflicts
    With the admission that three more former CERA staff members are under suspicion of not appropriately managing conflicts of interest related to the Canterbury rebuild, it’s imperative that CERA’s successor organisation Ōtākaro fronts up to Parliamentary questions, says Labour’s Canterbury ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour to tackle Hutt housing crisis
    Labour will build a mix of 400 state houses and affordable KiwiBuild homes in the Hutt Valley in its first term in government to tackle the housing crisis there, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “Housing in the Hutt ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Farewell to John Clarke
    This wonderfully talented man has been claimed by Australia, but how I remember John Clarke is as a young Wellington actor who performed satirical pieces in a show called “Knickers” at Downstage Theatre. The show featured other future luminaries like ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    3 weeks ago
  • Valedictory Speech
    Te papa pounamu Aotearoa NZ Karanga karanga karanga; Nga tupuna Haere haere haere; Te kahui ora te korowai o tenei whare; E tu e tu ... tutahi tonu Ki a koutou oku hoa mahi ki Te Kawanatanga; Noho mai noho ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Buck stops with Gerry Brownlee
    The fact that the State Services Commission has referred the CERA conflict of interest issue to the Serious Fraud Office is a positive move, but one that raises serious questions about the Government’s oversight of the rebuild, says Labour Canterbury ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Teachers deserve a democratic Education Council
    Teachers around New Zealand reeling from the news that their registration fees could more than double will be even angrier that the National Government has removed their ability to have any say about who sits on the Council that sets ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Free trade backers are simply out of touch
    Are the backers of free trade out of touch with public opinion? This was the question asked when the Chartered Accountants launched their Future of Trade study. I was astonished by the answer in a room of free trade enthusiasts ...
    GreensBy Barry Coates
    3 weeks ago
  • John Clarke aka Fred Dagg will be missed by all Kiwis
    The man who revolutionised comedy on both sides of the Tasman, John Clarke, will be sadly missed by Kiwis and Aussies alike, says the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.   “I grew up with Fred Dagg and I am ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Labour’s modern approach to monetary policy
    A commitment to full employment and a more transparent process to provide market certainty are the hallmarks of Labour’s proposals for a new approach to monetary policy, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Greens back Labour’s plan for monetary policy reform
    Labour plans to change the way we do monetary policy in New Zealand and the Green Party supports them fully. We’re now of a single mind on this. Labour will move away from our reliance on a single, unelected person ...
    GreensBy robert.ashe
    3 weeks ago
  • Greens back Labour’s monetary policy reform
    Labour plans to change the way we do monetary policy in New Zealand and the Green Party supports them fully. We’re now of a single mind on this. Labour will move away from our reliance on a single, unelected person ...
    GreensBy James Shaw
    3 weeks ago
  • Govt drops ball on Masters Games housing squeeze
    Families currently living in emergency accommodation face being forced out onto the street as motel accommodation in Auckland is filled up by contestants and visitors of the World Masters Games in coming weeks, says Labours social development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • State inquiry for Nga Morehu – The Survivors of State Abuse
    The Prime Minister must show humanitarian leadership and launch an independent inquiry into historic claims of abuse of children who were in State care, says Labour’s Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern. ...
    3 weeks ago