Dear David and David,
I have read with interest the policy document you released yesterday: New Zealand Power, Energising New Zealand. I wonder if you could clarify a few points for me.
- In the document and the associated speeches, you quote the Wolak report’s figure of $4.3b of, in your words, “super profits”. Have either of your read the report, or any of the trenchant criticisms of that report? (A bit egotistically, I can suggest work that I was involved in, here, here, and here, but there are others.)
- You say that “prices are rising faster than in many of our major competitor countries”, and show a graph comparing the price trend in a number of countries since 1986. Let’s leave aside the question of what is meant by “competitor country”. Is it your position that prices were correct in New Zealand in 1986? Elsewhere you say that your new agency, New Zealand Power, will set prices based on operating costs and a fair return on capital. Is it your position that prices were generating a fair return on capital in 1986?
- You say that the faster rate of price growth in New Zealand “undermines the competitiveness of our economy”. But one of your graphs shows that real industrial prices have remained about constant since 1986 and commercial prices have fallen. What exactly do you mean by “competitiveness”?
- Your graph shows that the faster increase of prices relative to other countries has been fairly steady since 1986 albeit with an acceleration around 2000. Since your explanation for this price trend is a lack of competition in the market and the use of marginal-cost rather than average-cost pricing, is it your position that these factors have been changing steadily over the past 25 years, accelerating during the period of the last Labour government? Is it possible that the trend might be attributable to steady increases in demand over time and regulatory obstacles to power companies building new capacity?
- You say that selling assets will “push up power prices even more as foreign and corporate investors look to maximise profits”. Is it your position that the state-owned electricity companies are not currently looking to maximise profit, even though that is their fiduciary duty under the State-Owned Enterprises Act?
- You state that the Wolak report found that the four big generators made “super profits of $4.3b at the expense of consumers”. You also state that hydro generators earn “super profits” by using free water to generate electricity that is sold at the same price as generators using more expensive methods. Do you think this is what Wolak meant when he calculated the excess profits earned? Have you read the Wolak report?
- As I noted earlier, you state that price will be set based on operating costs and a fair return to capital. But the Wolak report assumed that there was excess capacity in New Zealand so that a competitive market would have produced prices based only on operating costs. Are you stating that Wolak’s $4.3b figure is overstated? Have you read the Wolak report?
- Drawing on a report you have commissioned from BERL, you state that your policy will create 5,000 jobs and boost the economy by $450 million per annum. In their report, BERL state that they are assuming an economy with deficient demand so that unemployed resources are avaialbe to the industrial and commercial sector with no opportunity cost. In citing that figure as an on-going per annum benefit, are you stating that it is your view that the economy will remain in a state of deficient aggregate demand forever, and that your government would take no other action to increase demand?
- And if you have time, could you ask BERL whether it is not an oxymorn to have a computable general equilibrium model, and then state that “the model’s calculation of the impacts on the government accounts exclude the direct loss of revenue from lower generator dividends and lower tax receipts from the generator’s reduced profits”.
- By the way, did you know that one of the implicit assumptions Wolak used in his report implied that there was no efficiency loss from the putative overcharging, just a transfer from users to taxpayers? If you accept this report, wouldn’t it be easier just to use the tax and benefit system to transfer money back to poorer consumers? Have you read the Wolak report?