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The power companies are rorting us

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, November 15th, 2022 - 25 comments
Categories: assets, climate change, Economy, energy, Environment, global warming, Privatisation, privatisation, uncategorized - Tags:

Over the years I have written a number of posts about the consequences of the great power company and Air New Zealand share selloff that National engaged in during its last term.

In my last post in January 2019 I calculated that the privatisation had cost New Zealand Inc the sum of $2.3 billion in lost dividends and the the shares that were sold were then worth $4.2 billion more than what we sold them for.

FIRST Union, NZCTU, and 350 Aotearoa have just released a joint report suggesting that the privatisations were not only disastrous for the country’s finances but also disastrous for the planet.

From the NZCTU website:

A new report co-authored by FIRST Union, NZCTU, and 350 Aotearoa argues that since the partial-privatisation of our electricity companies, the four big generator-retailers (“the gentailers”) have delivered billions in excess dividends to shareholders. Excess dividends are payments to shareholders in excess of the profits earned by the gentailers.

“From 2014 to 2021 these firms have collectively paid out $3.7 billion more in dividends to their shareholders than they have earned in profits – an average excess dividend of $459 million a year,” said FIRST Union Researcher and Policy Analyst Edward Miller.

“Excess dividend distribution has starved our electricity network of the investment needed to build new generating capacity, hiking prices on households in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and keeping coal and gas-powered generating assets on life support”, said Miller.

“In December 2020 the NZ Government declared a climate emergency, but we are yet to see the kind of urgent action required to match the scale of the threat”, said Miller.

“Private ownership of the electricity industry has lost us almost a decade of possible progress in the fight for a just transition to a low-emissions economy”.

Miller said the era of excess dividends must now end.

“As the largest gentailer shareholder, we’re calling on Government to propose resolutions at shareholder meetings that will channel profits into building new renewable generating capacity, and using any dividends to buy back the gentailer shares”, said Miller.

CTU Economist Craig Renney said “The government has recently acted on the banking sector, and on petrol companies to ensure that they are delivering better outcomes for New Zealanders. This report demonstrates that there is a pressing need to do this for the electricity sector as well.

New Zealand now generates more electricity through coal and gas than we did in 2018. Prices for customers are rising, but new renewable electricity generation that might tackle rising bills and our climate commitments has been missing in action”.

“If the Government wants to honour its commitment to a just transition, it needs to continue to be proactive in holding companies to account.”

The report also calls on the Government to commit the equivalent of its excess dividend into financing new community and household generation ($1.35 billion), and to levy a windfall tax on the gentailers for their remaining excess dividend ($2.36 billion).

350 Aotearoa Executive Director Alva Feldmeier said the Government had a crucial role to play in establishing a solution.

“We can’t expect the market to fix itself. The gentailers feel more accountable to their shareholders than to their consumers which is delivering neither fast emission reductions nor addressing the huge levels of power poverty in Aotearoa”.

Miller said “A majority of people opposed partial-privatisation in the 2013 asset sales referendum; ignoring those voices has come at great cost. It’s time for an electricity system that serves people and planet, not shareholders.”

The associated report contains the calculations behind the conclusions and for the purpose of its analysis includes Contact Energy which was privatised by a previous National Government in 1999 and excludes Air New Zealand.

The conclusions in the executive summary for the report are damning:

  • From 2014 until 2021, the four big generator-retailer firms (the gentailers) have distributed $8.7 billion in dividends off only $5.35 billion earned in profits. Collectively, the gentailers have delivered $3.7 billion in excess dividends to shareholders over this period, averaging $459 million a year.
  • The NZ Government is a major beneficiary of this, collecting$1.35 billion in excess dividends as part of the$3.75 billion collected from its 51 percent shareholding over this period. This is an average of $150 million per year.
  • Systemic underinvestment in generating capacity has enabled excess dividend distribution, leaving New Zealand’s generating capacity practically flat over the last decade.
  • Underinvestment in renewable generation enables high-cost high-emission fossil fuel electricity to set the prices for cheaper renewable electricity, dragging prices up across the market and bolstering profits.
  • Excess dividend distribution’s impact is offset by a process of asset revaluations, itself the result of rising electricity prices. Asset revaluations now account for 56 percent of the value of fixed assets held by the three mixed ownership gentailers ($10.9 billion out of $19.6 billion)

Next time a National Party politician criticises the Government for Aotearoa still burning coal or for the high cost of electricity remind them that their sell off of the country’s electricity companies led directly to this situation.

25 comments on “The power companies are rorting us ”

  1. millsy 1

    Quite frankly, our high level of hydro dams (built to a high standard over the past venture) should mean that the level of power prices should be similar to that of gas prices in Turkmenistan. Zero.

    We should be looking to abundance, not scarcity. Our power prices should reflect that. The money men need to be thrown out

  2. Incognito 2

    Any comment from the Nats? Something about the free market and tough times for the poor power companies? Anything?

    • Andy 2.1

      I have heard from some right-wing types that there is insufficient regulation in controlling the prices.

      It is a quasi-monopoly anyway.

      • lprent 2.1.1

        It is a quasi-monopoly…

        Of course it is. All power generation and transport infrastructure is some form of monopoly economically. However the problem isn’t with the pricing. If you read the post, it shows that the dividends being paid to shareholders are larger than their profits.

        Basically the post shows that the gentailers are mining the previous asset values in infrastructure to generate excessive dividends to shareholders. They aren’t investing in the new capacity that their customers need now and into the future. For basic things like having the capacity to power electric vehicles or to make green hydrogen (if that ever gets safe enough to use).

        For the last 3 decades there has been limited investment into the infrastructure relative to the value of the infrastructure to maintain it. Effectively the grid and generation is being run down for dividends.

        The simplest short-term solution would be to just raise the costs to the power generator companies to transport the power over the grid to about 2-4x the current take from Transpower. That will allow the grid to be actually upgraded rather than patched to stop it failing.

        We should have had the high capacity lines from Manapouri to upper South Island decades ago. It is ridiculous that the upper SI imports power from the North Island through a lot of the winters. While we need more lines across the Cook Strait to handle extremes, it shouldn’t be something that should encouraged as being normal. It becomes a single point of failure in a tectonically unstable region.

        Raising the transport charges would also allow Transpower to subsidise new generation initiatives as the cost of connecting to the grid is considerable. Reduce the cost of new generation capacity and the profitability incentives change.

        Set a plan to drop short-term (~5 years) to outlaw power generation by coal. And a longer term (decades) to do the same for gas.

        I’d also dump the electricity market as well simply because that is increasingly looking like a manipulative system for rorting artificial shortages.

        Alternatively just put an absolute upper limit on the spot prices, with a capacity for the electricity commission to demand capacity from hydro at a fixed prices when capacity shortages (and large fines for any generator who doesn’t comply immediately).

        The risk for insufficient capacity and transfer needs to get dropped on to the generators rather than consumers, business or public.

        FFS: When was that last hydro system put into NZ? 2013 were the last commissioning. Basically they stopped after National removed the incentives to start making them when they sold off the gentailers.


        And could we please get rid of the smelter or at the very least raise their power price to something similar to what NZ businesses pay.

        • alwyn

          "When was that last hydro system"?

          Meridian tried to build one about 10 years ago. Of course the Green Party opposed it and got Dunne to support them. Can't have Hydro stations you know. They might bother some fish who currently live in a river, or affect some scenery, or snails, that no one ever visits.


          Meridian ended up scrapping the proposal, as they also had had to do with Project Aqua on the Waitaki and a wind farm project in Central Otago.


        • Shanreagh

          Something has gone wrong with my reading/brain….I keep seeing gentitalia and not gentailer. I'd better come back later as it is not going to make much sense with this reading! laugh

          • Hanswurst

            I keep seeing gentitalia and not gentailer.

            Actual genitalia, or just the word?

            • Shanreagh

              Just the word thankfully but even the word makes a strange read. smiley

              It has passed now as I am consciously reading gentailers now. I may even have enough of my wits about me to comment on gentailers.

              I have been sad that this crock that is the electricity system has not been tackled by this Labour Govt. Though it will be difficult because the whole system is tied down tight, by interlocking relationships. Possibly one of the more immovable monuments to neo lib we have.

        • Poission

          The simplest short-term solution would be to just raise the costs to the power generator companies to transport the power over the grid to about 2-4x the current take from Transpower. That will allow the grid to be actually upgraded rather than patched to stop it failing.

          The profits and taxes from the 100% Government monopoly,are used for general use rather then reinvested in the grid (where it uses debt ) over 750m under this government.

          We should have had the high capacity lines from Manapouri to upper South Island decades ago. It is ridiculous that the upper SI imports power from the North Island through a lot of the winters. While we need more lines across the Cook Strait to handle extremes,

          Go round transmission is nearly complete joining the Clutha and Waitaki transmission systems with duplex.Upper south is supplied most nights when sufficient wind is generated to sustain hydro levels,

          Top of the South especially Tasman needs more local distributed generation as they already pay over 10$mwh extra for transmission.CS cables is in the capital plan ( big $$$$$) .

          There is also a project from the Wairakei with go round power and interconnections to duplicate supply North.A full electric project to meet the Governments aspirational goals by 2030 ( can only reach 98% renewable) will cost 11b$ for transmission,and 11b$ on distribution with additional costs going forward as Liquid fuels are substituted.This does not include generations costs.

          I’d also dump the electricity market as well simply because that is increasingly looking like a manipulative system for rorting artificial shortages.

          Real time pricing (with supply/demand smoothing) has reduced window blocks to 5 minutes from 30, has been in place since the 1st November,and reduces pricing risks from wind forecasts (with a probability 90%)

          • lprent

            Interesting. I wasn't aware of the cross connections being that close. I also need to look at the wind power reliability for the SI.

            In the NI the effective baseload is now geothermal which has no storage. The mix is quite different.

            I will have another look at your comment on the weekend.

            • Poission

              Wind power comes south (hvdc) where it reduces both water and transmission loss.

              Two wind projects to be activated in South island (planning and finance approved)

              Hydro NI is mostly run of river,there needs to be more generation capacity north of auckland, some with battery storage for marsden point,and a good use of existing transmission with refinery closed.

  3. arkie 3

    There are proposed solutions:

    “The Green Party is clear that the imperative to invest in a climate-friendly future is too important to outsource.

    “Massive electricity profits should be reinvested into renewables, action to reduce household bills, and local clean energy projects, such as shared or community energy.

    “An excess profit tax can help address the immediate challenges we face, while work is done to redesign the electricity market to build the better, cleaner and more equal future our children deserve.


    Have they been ruled out yet?

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    Power generation and supply needs to be returned to full public ownership and control. Any compensation should depend on the bludging Gentailers pissing off very quietly indeed.

    Hydro power was built with public money, along with NZers labour and skills. It is a travesty that some working class people could not heat their homes adequately in 2022.

    “Winter Energy” transfers like WFF transfers from other taxpayers show the neo liberal emperor wears ripped jeans.

    • millsy 4.1

      One of the greatest dissapointments of Jacinda's govt is that fact that they are/were too soft on the power companies. Corporate greed in this country is too far embedded.

    • Johnr 4.2

      Yes definitely renationalise the generators.

      They do not deserve any compensation as their whole rort is based upon asset returns.

      They didn't have any assets until the public of NZ gave them to them. So all of those returns should belong to the public for further investment.

  5. Ad 5

    I've gone back to reading Bruce Jesson's 'Only Their Purpose is Mad' from 1999, where he and Alliance colleagues successfully resisted (for the most part) privatisation.

    He goes through the bureaucratic ideological capture, political capture, commercial fee capture, and legal capture of the proposed liquidation of Auckland's assets.

    And here we are with Mayor Brown 2 decades later spouting the same nonsense, preparing to do the same.

  6. Poission 6

    There is a significant use of selective statistics in this spiel,by changing time series for selective quotes.

    New Zealand now generates more electricity through coal and gas than we did in 2018. Prices for customers are rising,

    FF (including oil) generation reduced from 2014-2021 by 707 gwh.

    Residential customers in real terms (including gst.)

    2014 the energy cost (incl levys) was 19.07 c kwh,

    2022 the energy cost (inc levy) is 18.62 c kwh

    The energy cost is the generation,regulator levy,retailers margin.

    The remainder of the bill is transmission and distribution.

    Both generation and consumption are flatlined since 2014.

  7. tc 7

    Dividends in excess of profits with no investment in the business year on year is wreckless.

    I'm sure that nice Mr key has an explanation for it mickey. As the party of fiscal responsibility I'm sure they'll want to respond as to why it's not their fault.

  8. Descendant Of Smith 8

    It should be simple enough to legislate that dividends can be no more than 30% of profit.

    I'd rather see it renationalised. Pay the share holders the equivalent of the original price less the excess dividends they have received.

  9. Ed 9

    The power companies are rorting us.

    The banks are rorting us.

    The supermarkets are rorting us.

    Welcome to neoliberalism.

  10. Thinker 10

    I think I read somewhere that some of the cool free trade agreements clauses work to prevent regulation. We are beyond making decisions just to suit ourselves. Anyone else know about that? Is it true?

  11. Jackel 11

    So I take it that there is currently no carbon offsetting system specific to the electricity industry?

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