Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Highway Robbery

Generation Zero completed a series of fourteen public speaking events in locations around New Zealand last night, making the case for a zero-carbon future.

The final event held in Wellington's Illott Chamber was so well attended it needed an overflow area despite seating 300.  The presentation was fast paced and quite a data dump.

What was clear was New Zealand's economic development policy is stuck in the '70s. There are cheaper alternatives. Much can be done, is being done, some of it here, it is working and we need to do more of it to stay competitive.

The audience heard from presentations from Z Energy, A Massey scientist, an engineer, an Architect and more.

The National led government announced with much fan fair the Roads of National Significance (RoNS). This development policy is better described by some as Roads of Significance to National. While these projects may provide temporary benefit - Short term construction work, and a short lived improvement in traffic flows. Certainly the ROI for this project is dubious, Even Treasury says so.

First speaker of the evening was Danusia Wypych of Z Energy. Some years ago Z Energy bought the New Zealand assets of Shell New Zealand. But unlike many in the Carbon energy industry is actively looking for ways to opt out of extracted carbon.  Z Energy is looking for ways to turn wood waste and even wood from forest farms deliberately grown for fuel among other technologies. We also saw examples including a major cement company using wood from demolition for energy in the process saving money and creating business and work for supplying companies.

But 40% of New Zealand's Carbon foot print comes from road traffic. In recent years the kilometres driven by NZ drivers has stalled, perhaps, on the back of rising fuel costs. But New Zealand also has one of the most fuel inefficient fleets in the OECD and just 75 electric vehicles. Our rail network is in places being allowed to decline, most notably perhaps to the Hawke's Bay region. Rail carriers freight for 20 to 25% of the energy needed to move it by road. So the government opting to not repair the damaged section of rail is going backward and costing Hawke's Bay producers a small fortune.

Second to speak was Maddy Foreman.  When the government put into law it emissions trading schema they hailed as part of New Zealand Playing its part. but exactly how is now doing anything to discourage Carbon usage now that the carbon price has been allowed to collapse from $20.45 when the scheme was started to its current level of around $0.50. But it is not the only thing, there's the white elephant RoNS, there's abandonment of a moratorium on new carbon energy, even increased tax breaks for big oil. How did we get Rick Perry to design our energy strategy? :P

Here is where the "highway robbery" comes the RoNS are set to cost NZ$8b, delay roading development and maintenance outside of Auckland for ten years and eventually give little benefit to Auckland. Kiwi's see this obsession with new roads as barking mad, indeed 7 out of 10 would like to see better public transport and would consider cycling if it were safer.

Wellington Region is set to send $2b on the roading network. Three major projects that moving backwards indeed they set to slow traffic but a further 3km/h.
Kapiti Express is estimated to cost $600m and has a benefit to cost ration of .2%. Anything less than 1% is likely to loose money.

These projects are born of short thinking and they are not going to be of benefit.

Ralph Sim Contributor to the IEA and now lecturing at Massey University.
"The current trends toward warming of 4C will have devastating consequences for international security" - UN Security Council.
The change in climate is mainly human caused. And we are running out of time.  Since 1990 carbon emissions from road transport rose from 400 to 550 tonnes of GHG. There is no sign of reduction. Light rail provides options for inter city connections, linking suburbs.  240 people can commute by 177 cars or 3 buses or 1 light rail unit.

"Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men." E Roosevelt notably without the benefit of the science of climate change we have today.

Paul Young pointed to things that can and are being done.
Critics of those who advocate for responses to climate change
like to argue it is expensive.
Certainly some responses would be but those are not under serious consideration. Denmark undertook a study, and found that they could achieve a zero carbon future quite cheaply. With projects including setting up cycle ways, improving public transport. Now carbon fuel is so expensive, it is not like anyone needs much of a reason to leave their car at home.

Already, 30% of our industrial energy is renewable. Norsk Cog Tasman are using geothermal while Golden Bay Cement are using wood waste from demolitions.

We could do more. For example "energy forests" - Forestry farms were trees are grown for fuel. We have more than enough land for biofuel.

The Nissan Leaf can do 120km on a single charge an this will suit 95% of drivers.

There is more to road users than commuters. There is freight. Rail is 4 times more efficient than road transport so we should invest in it. Long haul road freight should become a mere shadow of there current fleet. Already they find margins squeezed with the rising price of fuel.

Electric bicycles, especially for our hillier cities, Wellington and Dunedin come to mind. These offer assistance on those hills that really make riders break out in a sweat. Even climbing Dunedin's Baldwin Street becomes comfortable with a motor in the driving wheel.  These bikes can set you back $2500 to $4000 or $1800 for a conversion kit. But they have a 10 to 15A/h Lithium battery and are said to work well for Wellington by Electric Bike Hub.

Richard Reid gave us a vision for better roads in Wellington. Of particular concern is the basin reserve. The function he said of the Basin Reserve is to separate North-South traffic from East-West traffic it is good to send East-West traffic under memorial park, this allows it clearance from inner city north-south traffic between the CBD and Island Bay. The proposed second tunnel under Mt Victoria is an expensive waste of space, and it wont actually improve traffic flows.

Another great wast of space is the garden area between Kent and Cambridge Terraces. This space could be better utilized as a promenade with shops.

Steven Green, trained as an engineer to solve the problems of responding to climate, it perplexed him to there are engineering solutions but nothing was being done until he realized these changes need political clout. Government are often loathed to do anything unless there are votes in it. Young are most concerned by climate change yet many youth have not  registered on the electoral role. By increasing young voter registration and encouraging voting for public policy to address climate change the governments can be pushed into action. It is not just registration, it is getting your registration upto date of you have moved.

Wellington's last local body election saw only a 40% voter response. The bigger the voter turnout the more like we are get a council that will move in the right direction. But, they need pushing on issues, just like central government. Making a submission to council is the way to do this, see how at savethebasin.org.nz.

[Correction] Removed description of Z-Energy as a sponsor of the event in the interests of accuracy.

See also
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