BOOK REVIEW: Alternating Currents or Counter-Revolution: Contemporary Electricity Reform in New Zealand, by Lewis T. Evans and Richard B. Meade (Victoria University Press).
Arthur O’Donnell is an independent energy and environmental writer based in San Francisco. Contact him atenergyoverseer@ comcast.net.
The news coming from across the Pacific Ocean over the past year seemed familiar, if at times puzzling. New Zealand’s energy minister, caught in a political faux-pas, hastily resigns—only to be reinstated a few weeks later. Concerns about inadequate power supplies and below-average hydroelectric storage are downplayed by government regulators. Then, a harsh winter wind storm triggers a transmission failure that blacks out the major city of Auckland.
In May, regulators had rejected an application by grid operator TransPower to construct a new high-voltage line into Auckland, saying the expensive upgrade does not meet legal requirements. Property owners who had banded against the massive project rejoice, but the head of the deciding Electricity Commission is soon let go for exercising too much independence from ministry policies encouraging economic development (i.e., more transmission).
Meanwhile, rate regulators at the Commerce Commission issue warnings that higher gas and electric prices may trigger investigations and controls over several utilities—which counter that the price spikes are based largely on world energy markets and are not really under their control.
What to make of all this turmoil in New Zealand’s energy industry?