Labour softens stance on electricity reforms
Labour appears to have softened its stance on the newly passed Electricity Industry Bill.
The bill, which passed its final reading last night, will enact sweeping reforms in a bid to boost competitive behaviour in the electricity sector, particularly in retailing and particularly in the South Island.
Both Labour and the Greens opposed the bill, which passed on a 66 to 49 vote.
Labour pledged in a select committee minority report in June that a future Labour-led government would repeal and replace the bill “at the earliest opportunity”.
The party said it would replace the bill with a legislative framework with a more explicit focus on sustainability and affordable pricing.
Labour's associate energy spokesman Chris Hipkins told NBR yesterday that the party had not changed its position since the minority report.
But he acknowledged that a Labour reversal of the bill would not be a “straight-out” repeal.
It was more likely that Labour would introduce a second bill to amend aspects of the legislation.
Labour’s key concerns are that the scope of the new Electricity Authority is too limited and that the bill’s transfer of the Tekapo A and B hydro stations from Meridian to Genesis will prove inefficient.
Mr Hipkins said Labour would need to “look very closely at the commercial realities” of reversing the Tekapo station asset transfer.
“But our strong feeling is that the Waitaki water system operates better as a coherent system and that having it split up doesn’t make sense.”
As a matter of priority, Labour would look at reconstituting the new Electricity Authority to a “more comprehensive oversight body” in the style of the old Electricity Commission.
The Electricity Industry Bill will dissolve the Electricity Commission and split its powers and responsibilities between a new, independent Electricity Authority, the Commerce Commission, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and Transpower.
It will formally establish a liquid electricity hedge market, allow lines companies back into the retail market, and transfer some assets between state-owned generators Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy and Mighty River Power, including the Tekapo station transfer.
A $15m fund will be set up to encourage customer switching between retailers.