I’ll add a bit here.
As best I understand things, coal is now part of our baseload generation capacity. Huntly runs all the time, their gas turbines are easier to fire up and scale down for peaking than are their coal units, and our hydroelectric stations are obviously better as peaking units. Adding electric cars adds to baseload demand, so we need more baseload capacity. That’s ideally hydro, which is banned by the environmentalists / water spirits people. Wind can be part of our baseload because it can be partnered with hydro: when the wind blows, we can dial back the hydro plants and save the water there for times when the wind is calmer. But, that means they need to service the same demand points as our hydroelectric stations. And hydroelectric plus lots of wind means the Canterbury High Country. And the environmentalists / scenery people have banned our putting wind power there too because it would make a tiny percentage of that scenery look different. So that’s out too.
Fracking can be done safely – from my read of the literature, whatever problems there have been in some cases with water contamination can be avoided by techniques that only slightly increase the cost of extraction. Getting more access to cheap natural gas in New Zealand can displace what coalfire generation we are running and gives us room to expand generation capacity at lowest environmental cost given the existing political constraints. But the Greens have pushed to ban that too, and have succeeded in getting a pile of Councils to ban it within their catchments.
What’s left? Maybe more geothermal. Tidal remains a bit of a pipe dream – I hope we can get there someday, but I’d sure want it on-stream and running before pushing everybody into electric cars. Solar faces some of the same constraints as wind – it’s a great complement to hydroelectric and lets us store electricity in the form of lakes-not-yet-run-through-turbines when the sun shines. And maybe it’ll be low enough cost sometime soon that we’ll be able to use it. And I wonder whether the same “Oh but I hate everything that changes anything” people will work to ban solar plants near our hydroelectric stations in the same way that they’re putting wind into the “too hard” basket.
Pushing more demand onto the grid, without getting more capacity on the grid, is a bit scary. I like the stuff in the report about getting more active demand management systems. That will help smooth out some of our peaking issues. But we need more baseload if we want electric cars sometime down the track. It’s not obvious how we get there from here.
Bottom line: the report seems to be a re-tread of well-known issues with a recommendation to spend more public money to help private businesses. When it comes to really difficult issues — what trade-offs are we willing to make? how do consumers symbolise environmental values through economic transactions? — it seem to fall silent. Maybe somewhere in those 300 pages they grapple with the hard stuff. If so, Pure Advantage will have gotten its money’s worth.