Russel Norman's Campaign Conference Speech 2014: Going Solar

Solar Homes policy launch

 

Introduction: Standing on the threshold

The anticipation in the air at this conference is like no other that I can remember.

We are standing on the threshold of history — the moment when the Green Party forms New Zealand's first green government.

We, as a nation, are about to embark on a new political journey led by compassionate values and smart leadership.

Assembled before me are our election candidates. Never before have we had so much talent and energy assembled in one place.

We're building the biggest Green Team yet to fight this election and fight it fair.

We don't accept campaign donations from casinos or oil companies.

And we have the most transparent, democratic list selection process of any political party. We are, at our very core, what a vibrant democracy can look like.

So here we are, standing on this threshold like a worker on the first day of a new job facing a world of potential and possibilities before us — but one with huge challenges that will demand our deepest wells of creativity and energy to solve.

We're about to make history, but we can't do this alone. We need to bring the country with us; share our vision for a smarter, greener, and fairer Aotearoa New Zealand.

This year, we will show New Zealand what a green government will look like.

How does prosperity look to New Zealanders raising young families, New Zealanders starting university, or New Zealanders starting their own businesses?

We have a profoundly hopeful vision for a richer New Zealand — a country where rivers run clear, our kids are happy, and there are good-paying jobs in a smarter, greener economy.

It will take vision and leadership to get us there and the Greens have a record of both.

Forty years ago we led the debate with what is the most profound new idea of the last century — that we live on a finite planet with finite natural resources.

This simple idea is changing the course of human history.

It is the idea that we can tap into the unlimited resources of human creativity and generosity so that we can live great lives while respecting the natural limits of the planet.

We were also the first political party to talk about the idea that growing inequality leaves everyone worse off.

We are the people that lead the debate about how to live good lives — good to each other and good to the planet.

This is very different to the alternative offered by National, which is about how to do more of the same.

More of the same is no longer working for most of us. More of the same is no longer working for our rivers. More of the same is no longer working for our climate.

 

Initiatives announced so far

Over the last year or so, we've announced a number of new initiatives that begin to demonstrate in a clear, concrete way what a green government will begin to deliver on the day after Election Day 2014. Let me recap that story so far.

In December 2012, we released our discussion paper about how to make the most of the expanding internet economy and information technology sector.

We proposed building a second fibre optic cable connecting New Zealand to the rest of the world and laying the foundation for an expanding ICT sector in New Zealand.

The current cable is a constraint on the development of the New Zealand ICT sector, both in terms of price and resilience. We have received strong support from across the ICT sector and will be making further announcements as the year progresses.

In January last year, Metiria launched our Home For Life package of initiatives designed to meaningfully put home ownership within the reach of thousands more Kiwi families while improving the lot for renters too.

The flagship policy in that package was our progressive ownership scheme, which gives young New Zealand families a leg up into their first home.

Around the time of the Budget in May last year, I announced a package of economic measures that will help address the New Zealand economy's single largest vulnerability — our large and growing international debt.

This might not seem very exciting, but it could not be more important because the Greens are serious about running the New Zealand economy in a smart and responsible manner to ensure we live within our means and secure long-term, stable economic prosperity.

The package included our long-term commitment to raising a comprehensive tax on capital gains (excluding the family home), reforming the Reserve Bank's mandate, and investing in a stronger, more sophisticated Kiwibank to break the near total monopoly foreign banks have on our banking sector.

Then we released our NZ Power plan in response to a lack of competition and rising electricity prices. We jointly announced with Labour our plan to save Kiwi families up to $300 per year on their home energy bills.

Our NZ Power plan will deliver cheaper and cleaner energy to households and provide the foundation to build a genuinely smart grid. It complements our hugely successful home insulation scheme and is the first of several significant announcements in the energy sector.

Most recently, we announced one of our smartest packages yet for dealing with child poverty and the detrimental impact it has on the educational opportunities of our most vulnerable children. How can you learn when you're hungry?

We plan to set up hubs in lower decile schools that will bring together health, welfare, and other support services in one place to lessen the impact of poverty on a child's learning.

Education is the best route out of poverty. Our proposal will remove the significant barriers poorer kids face before they've even opened up their exercise books.

And we'll deliver one of the most effective child poverty reduction measures for a tenth of the cost of National's tax cut package for the richest ten percent of New Zealanders.

This is what a smart and compassionate green government will look like.

Over the coming months, we plan to roll out further new measures to make sure New Zealand is a country we can be proud of.

Today, I want to focus on smarter greener economics and one part of our Green vision for energy freedom.

 

Green plans for energy freedom

Renewable electricity generation is now the fastest growing sector of electricity generation in the world.

According to the International Energy Agency, wind, solar, and hydro energy are set to overtake gas generation in the next couple of years to become the second largest source of electricity in the world.

As a result, green jobs are growing fast. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the greener the industry, the higher the rate of job growth over the last decade.

The clean energy future is here and New Zealand has a lucky head-start in the electricity sector with three quarters of our electricity coming from renewable sources.

The Green Party plans to make New Zealand 100 percent renewable in electricity by 2030 - setting us free forever from dirty energy and the huge risks this poses to a stable climate.

New Zealand can show the world how to produce 100 percent pure electricity.

Having our electricity come exclusively from renewable sources will give us the freedom from ever higher electricity prices.

Having our electricity come exclusively from renewable sources will free us from the cost of carbon emissions and the hurt they will cause our children from a dangerously destabilised climate.

And as electricity comes to run more of our transport network, renewable energy will free us of the burden of the $8 billion yearly oil import bill. A bill that will only increase in the years ahead.

Even halving this bill gives New Zealand $4 billion a year to invest elsewhere in productive enterprise that creates jobs, while cutting greenhouse emissions. That is real freedom.

To help get us to 100 percent renewable, we'll need new investment and policies to encourage energy efficiency and new technology to harness surplus energy from biofuels. Watch this space.

Today, I'm launching new policy that will empower New Zealand homeowners and businesses to play a part in creating a clean energy sector, while giving them more freedom over their use of power and the option to be small-scale generators.

This is all about the power of the sun.

 

Going Solar

Now when Maui and his brothers harnessed the sun it was a rather complex operation. They spent five days weaving flax ropes, travelled far to the East, hid under trees and bushes for 12 days and then made their move, risking their lives to catch and slow Tama-nui-te-Rā.

Thankfully it's a whole lot easier these days. Solar energy is abundant, accessible and within a few years, is likely to be the cheapest source of power in many countries around the world.

In America, one home or business goes solar every four minutes.

More than a million Australian homes now have solar photovoltaic panels (PV) installed.

And many of you are probably familiar with how, on one hot summer's day, Germany met close to half its midday electricity needs through solar power.

That's half of Europe's biggest and strongest economy running on sun.

And most parts of Germany get far less sun than New Zealand - Invercargill has roughly the same solar resource as Germany.

Jim Rogers, the recently retired head of the biggest energy utility in the US said that if he were entering the energy industry now, he'd be into rooftop solar - this from a man who's been promoting nuclear, gas, and coal power for most of his career.

New Zealanders are increasingly going solar. Installations have jumped in the past two years, but from a low base.

The cost of solar has fallen dramatically. Between 2011 and last year, the price of installing PV dropped 36 percent.

It now costs about $10,000 to put in a 3kW PV system. That's impressive when you consider it was about $40,000 in 2004.

Real New Zealanders are experiencing these benefits, like Philippa Johnson who installed solar on the roof of her North Shore home last year. Her monthly power bill is now down to $30.

Here in the audience I welcome Stu Selby and Erika Whittome, who live in a solar home with their baby girl Rosanna, who can tell you first-hand about how great it is.

The value of the New Zealand solar industry is now double what it was in 2011, and valued at about $42 million. This has meant green jobs and cheaper power for thousands.

However compared to other countries, New Zealand's solar electricity industry has a lot of catching up to do.

And that's why I'm launching our Solar Homes policy today. We need a step change in solar.

New Zealand electricity bills are too high — they've risen 67 percent ahead of inflation over the last 22 years.

Here in Auckland, people have seen their electricity bills go up 19 percent alone in the five years of a National Government. Wages are not keeping up with the rapidly rising costs of running a household. Power companies are making super profits.

NZ Power is one part of the solution, by introducing real competition into the market, but we need to make sure that NZ Power isn't only efficient but also green. The plan we're announcing today complements our NZ Power measures and also delivers more affordable power to Kiwis.

We don't think big electricity company shareholders should be able to dictate the price of our power. We don't think they should have this much control over what we do in our homes.

Call it energy freedom, call it energy independence, this is a policy that will let Kiwis take the power back and break free from the big energy companies.

It's about being free of the worry and stress of rising power prices.

Under the Greens' Solar Homes' initiative, individuals and families will be able to get low-cost loans from government to install solar power on the roof of their home, so they can tap into free and clean power to generate their own electricity.

The biggest obstacle stopping most families from going solar today is the up-front cost. This is where we can leverage our government's lower cost of borrowing to allow tens of thousands of homes and businesses to install solar power, at virtually no cost to the taxpayer.

Solar Homes loans will be repaid through rates and the loan attaches to the house. This allows families and businesses to invest without the concern they will lose their investment if they move house within a few years.

Once you start generating solar power, you will also be able to sell any surplus power back into the grid at a fair price.

A typical system will produce $1,000 of electricity a year at current prices, and cost $900 a year over 15 years to pay off, leaving the owner $100 better off each year.

Over 25 years, the average family unit will produce $28,000 worth of power without a single government subsidy in sight — just a loan guarantee over a very secure investment.

Our new Solar Homes initiative is a simple, low cost way to move towards our goal of a 100 percent clean and sustainable power supply.

Solar Homes will create up to 1,000 new green jobs and boost economic development throughout the regions. We learnt this month that the US solar industry now employs more people than coal and gas combined. We can be creating similar high-value, long-term jobs here in New Zealand.

For anyone thinking about going solar, start with two simple questions:

1. Do you have roof space?

2. Does your roof get a decent amount of sun?

If you answered yes to both, you are a candidate for cheaper, cleaner power.

Our homes are our castles, right Metiria? They can also become our power sources.

We are a country rich in solar. Right now high-energy sun is hitting rooftops across New Zealand and most of it is going to waste. Let's start harnessing it instead.

Many New Zealand homes are exposed annually to 20-30 times more energy from the sun than they actually use in electricity or gas. Solar power helps reduce household living costs while also reducing the cost to the planet.

With solar power on your roof, you know you are helping to do something good for the climate.

Most New Zealanders have already changed their lives in one way or another to help make a better world. Whether it's recycling, taking the bus or train, cycling, walking, tree planting or composting, people are looking for a way to make a contribution to make the planet a better place for themselves and their kids.

But many are looking for ways to do more. We want to ensure that when the lights and heaters are on, it's not costing the planet. With solar power, you can play a part.

Between 1990 and 2011, New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation rose by nearly 50%. The sector now produces 5 million tonnes of CO2 every year. This is not acceptable for a country that can have 100 percent of our electricity come from renewables.

New Zealand's emissions are at their highest levels ever and trending up.

Since we signed up to the UN process in 1992, our emissions have risen nearly 60 percent. Latest Government figures project another 50 percent increase by 2030. We are going in the opposite direction to where we need to be going, and fast.

The Greens will put us back on track.

National wants to usher in an energy future defined by drilled oil, fracked gas and mined coal. But most Kiwis aren't that short sighted. They want energy that's enduring and sustainable — a New Zealand powered by clean energy.

If we can harness the power of the sun and wind, we are free from the need to frack and drill, free from all the environmental risks that come with fracking and drilling.

We estimate that up to 30,000 households will say yes to Solar Homes over the first term of government.

As part of our modeling we looked at the extraordinary uptake of the Greens' Heat Smart home insulation initiative.

Over 230,000 homes around New Zealand (60,000 in Auckland alone) are now warmer, drier and healthier thanks to our scheme. These uptake numbers broke all initial estimates.

Heat Smart was a Green Party policy achieved from outside Government. Imagine what we'll be able to do once we're in.

Solar Homes is one part of a bigger, more comprehensive energy package from the Greens. It builds on previous energy announcements like NZ Power and the tremendous success of the home insulation scheme and there will be more to come.

My colleague, Gareth Hughes, last year launched a set of complementary measures to ensure that households with rooftop solar selling surplus power to the grid get a fair price, set by an independent umpire.

We will amend the Electricity Industry Act to guarantee a fair price to households that feed electricity back into the grid. At the moment, the price is set month-by-month and is not enough of an incentive or guarantee for the greater uptake of small-scale renewable energy generation.

We want to ensure that people feel excited about generating their own power — we want to help make it a no-brainer for people with a roof and some sun.

We want Kiwis to live smarter so that we can prosper while living well with our natural environment.

 

Summary

Solar Homes, coupled with NZ Power, are the building blocks of a cleaner, cheaper, smarter electricity network that returns the power to New Zealanders.

Ultimately, it's all about energy freedom and freedom from a future dependent on fossil fuels and climate disaster.

It's what a smarter, greener economy looks like.

This is the New Zealand that I want our sons and daughters to grow up in.

It's a New Zealand to get excited about — one that just keeps getting better and better.

Bring on the election.

https://www.greens.org.nz/speeches/russel-normans-campaign-conference-speech-2014-going-solar

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand