30 June 2016

Turn off Meridian open letter to Mark Binns on why I am divesting from coal-pushing Meridian Energy

When is a renewable electricity generator not a renewable electricity generator? Or what do you do when the electricity generator who are claiming to supply your home with 100% renewable electricity enters into a commercial contract that keeps a coal-thermal power station emitting carbon dioxide for an additional four years?

Meridian Energy has recently signed a contract with Genesis Energy to keep the Huntly coal thermal power station open for four more years instead of closing in 2018.

New Zealand has made some predictions of future reductions in emissions that we have confidently sent off to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Unfortunately Meridian's action has had the effect of sending the emissions savings up in a puff of coal smoke.

So I decided to divest from Meridian Energy and move my account to electricity supplier to Ecotricity who own only 100% renewable generation capacity and who are certified as carbon neutral. I used the Consumer Power Switch website. There is also Whats my number web site.

I thought I should let Meridian Energy know I was voting with my account so I sent this open letter to Meridian Energy two weeks ago on 16 June 2016. I have not yet received a reply.

Mark Binns
Chief Executive
Meridian Energy Limited
PO Box 2128
Christchurch 8140

16 June 2016

Re: Meridian Energy’s support for four more years of thermal coal electricity carbon dioxide emissions from Huntly Power Station

Dear Mr Binns,

I am a Meridian retail customer. My customer number is TrJ5I19vcteK2 My account number is 1.h@"]41Y6x#5-r.

I consider climate change to be a serious risk that we are all morally obliged to respond to. In 2012 I deliberately chose Meridian as my electricity retailer because of it's 100% renewable generation.

I am aware that to some extent the electricity I consume inevitably draws on some fossil-fueled capacity due to the networked nature of the grid. However, I was satisfied that choosing Meridian as my retailer was the best I could do in terms of reducing carbon dioxide emissions as I would not be contributing my money to any fossil-fueled thermal generation. In the past four years I have been very happy with that choice and with the service I have received from Meridian. Unfortunately, I did not know that Meridian had a contract with Genesis to keep the Huntly coal thermal power station operating to 2018.

On 28th April 2016, Meridian Energy announced that it had signed a new contract with Genesis Energy that would keep the Huntly coal thermal power station operating for an extra four years. This contract therefore postpones the expected closure from the planned 2018 date to 2022. I have read the statement on the Meridian website explaining the contract as a means of reducing the risk of low levels in the hydro lakes. The explanation fails to take climate change seriously.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC sets out very simply the carbon budget consistent with limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius. The global warming we will experience will be linearly proportional to the cumulative volume of carbon dioxide emissions emitted by humanity. To prevent further dangerous levels of warming with a reasonable probability, cumulative emissions cannot exceed the carbon budget. At that point, emissions must not exceed net zero.

As a matter of physics, the additional emissions that will come from Huntly for the extra four years will result in higher and more dangerous eventual global warming. Meridian Energy's actions have facilitated these additional emissions.

I find Meridian’s actions to be completely contrary to the IPCC's finite carbon budget conception of mitigation and with Meridian’s previous statements on renewable electricity. Those statements now appear very shallow and insincerely held to say the least.

Therefore, it gives me some satisfaction to inform you I am moving my electricity account to a 100% renewable electricity generator who has carbon neutral certification and who is not a party of the Huntly contract. It is my sincere wish that as many customers as possible who are concerned about climate change also leave Meridian.

Yours sincerely

18 June 2016

Emissions Trading Scheme unit allocations are open data but units surrendered and actual emissions are state secrets

It would be good if we could compare actual company emissions under the NZETS to the generous free allocations of unit some entities receive. But we can't. It's half secret. So how will we ever know if allocations are excessive?

Someone recently asked me if there was enough publicly available information to be able to tell how the free allocation of NZ emission units to some privileged ETS participants under the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme related to the emitters actual emissions of greenhouse gases.

This information would be the number of emission units allocated to some emitters on the one hand, and on the other hand, the actual emissions of the emitters as reported to the Environmental Protection Authority and the actual numbers of corresponding emission units they surrender to the Environmental Protection Authority.

I replied "No, the data is not available". A response which, although it contains a grain of truth, still doesn't reflect the whole story. So this post is an attempt at that story.

In the past few years, I have written several posts about the significance of the free allocation of emission units to New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd, Norske Skog Tasman and New Zealand Steel. In each case I concluded that the free allocation of units (including units for energy costs) were excessive. That these were cases of 'over-allocation'.

In those posts I had to make estimates of the actual emissions and actual units surrendered. Although the Ministry for the Environment completely discloses the annual free allocation of units, neither the Ministry or the Environmental Protection Authority report the emissions and units surrendered by entity.

As I noted recently I have compiled a Google sheet of all units allocated to emitters from 2010 to 2014.

So good on the Ministry for the Environment. A while ago I made this pie chart of the 2011 allocations from the Ministry. Yes, awful rainbow colours I know! But it still makes it clear that the vast bulk of free units get allocated to the top ten or so emitters - who happen to also be some of New Zealand's largest and most influential companies.

I was running out of emitters like NZ Steel and NZ Aluminium Smelters Ltd who both have unique operations. Both are the only example of their industry in New Zealand. So I could look at 'category' emissions for 'aluminium smelting' and 'steel making from iron sands' in the Ministry for the Environment's greenhouse gas inventory reports and be confident the category emissions were the same as the company emissions.

So, back on 28 March 2013, I made a request under the Official Information Act (OIA) to the Environmental Protection Authority, who administer the reporting of emissions and surrendering of units in the ETS.

I asked for number of units surrendered by the top eleven ETS participants (New Zealand Steel Limited, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited, Methanex New Zealand Limited, Fletcher Concrete and Infrastructure Limited, Ballance Agri-Nutrients Limited, Holcim (New Zealand) Limited, Carter Holt Harvey Pulp & Paper Limited, Pan Pac Forest Products Limited, McDonalds Lime Limited, Winstone Pulp International Limited, Whakatane Mill Limited) for 2010 and 2011.

On 18 April 2013, the Environmental Protection Authority declined my request.

On 19 April 2013 I made a complaint about the EPA decision to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Almost a year later, on 8 April 2014, the Ombudsman concluded his investigation and said that the EPA were correct in refusing to give me the information as the Climate Change Response Act 2002 explicitly applies to the surrender of units in priority to the Official Information Act 1982.

The Deputy Ombudsman Leo Donnelly advised that he agreed with the EPA view that they did not have to provide the information on units surrendered. This is the key passage from his letter dated 8 April 2014.

"I am not persuaded that the Official Information Act is an Act that provides for the disclosure of information in s 99(2)(a) of the Climate Change Response Act.
The Official Information Act confers a right to request official information and requires that such requests be processed in accordance with its provisions, but those provisions do not provide for the disclosure of information under the Climate Change Response Act (or any other Act that imposes restrictions on the availability of official information).
Instead, section 52(3)(b)(i) of the Official Information Act provides that nothing in that Act derogates from any provision which is contained in any other Act which imposes a prohibition or restriction in relation to the availability of official information. Section 99 is such a section.
Accordingly, the Official Information Act does not override the restrictions imposed by section 99 of the Climate Change Response Act and it would be contrary to that section for the requested information to be made available to you. Consequently, section 18(c)(1) of the Official Information Act provides a reason to refuse your request on that basis."

I was bloody disappointed with that response. Here is the Ombudsman's letter. I also didn't know that the Official Information Act only applies if another statute allows it too. I will look at the relevant sections in detail.

Section 52(3)(b)(i) of the Official Information Act states;

(3) Except as provided in sections 50 and 51, nothing in this Act derogates from—
(a) ....
(b) any provision which is contained in any other Act of Parliament or in any regulations within the meaning of the Regulations (Disallowance) Act 1989 (made by Order in Council and in force immediately before 1 July 1983) and which—
(i) imposes a prohibition or restriction in relation to the availability of official information;...

So if another statute (or regulation) prohibits or restricts the availability of official information, then that statute or regulation applies irrespective of the Official Information Act.

Section 99 of the Climate Change Response Act certainly appears to prohibit the availability of information. It states;

This section applies—
(a) to the chief executive, the EPA, an enforcement officer, and any other person who performs functions or exercises powers of the chief executive, the EPA, or an enforcement officer under this Part and Part 5; and
(b) at the time during which, and any time after which, those functions are performed or those powers are exercised.
(2) A person to whom this section applies—
(a) must keep confidential all information that comes into the person’s knowledge when performing any function or exercising any power under this Part and Part 5; and
(b) may not disclose any information specified in paragraph (a), except—
(i) with the consent of the person to whom the information relates or of the person to whom the information is confidential; or
(ii) to the extent that the information is already in the public domain; or
(iii) for the purposes of, or in connection with, the exercise of powers conferred by this Part or for the administration of this Act; or
(iiia) for the purposes of, or in connection with, reporting requirements of the Public Finance Act 1989; or (iv) as provided under this Act or any other Act; or
(v) in connection with any investigation or inquiry (whether or not preliminary to any proceedings) in respect of, or any proceedings for, an offence against this Act or any other Act; or
(vi) for the purpose of complying with any obligation under the Convention or the Protocol.
(3) A person to whom this section applies commits an offence under section 130 if the person knowingly contravenes this section.....

So why does the Ministry for the Environment publish the annual allocations of units on its website? Why is the policy for unit allocation effectively open data (with complete public disclosure) when the policy for emissions and units surrendered in the ETS, the policy is 'Official Secrets Act?

The answer is the perfect bureaucrat's answer, because the Act says so. Section 86B Decisions on applications for allocations of New Zealand units to industry and agriculture of the Climate Change Response Act states:

(5) The EPA must, as soon as practicable, after deciding an eligible person’s final allocation for an eligible activity in respect of a year,—
(a) publish the decision in the Gazette; and
(b) ensure it is accessible via the Internet site of the EPA

Where does this leave us? It's the old story of the three-handed forestry consultant. 'On the one hand, on the second hand, but on the third hand..' Its great that the data on free allocation of units to emitters is fully disclosed. I am sure many of them wouldn't want that. However, without data on units surrendered and actual annual emissions under the ETS, no one can make much of an assessment of whether the units allocated are reasonable or over-allocated in terms of exceeding actual emissions. Transparency (and legitimacy) would be very much improved if the actual emissions and unit surrenders were just as open as the unit allocations

Saturday night listening White Valiant The Muttonbirds live in 1994

The Muttonbirds are a terrific band led by the indefatigable Don McGlashan in the 1990s.

Although Nature and The Heater are arguably better-known songs, this is the subtly disturbing 'White Valiant' played live in 1994.

Ah, that's great! I can't get enough! So here is another! It is the official video of 'Dominion Road', which was a single from their first album 'The Muttonbirds'.