A tale of two responses

The Herald reported:

In a 28 page paper delivered to an industry audience in Auckland, Dr Brent Layton argues current arrangements are working well but can be better, and that returning to a central planning approach will lead to higher prices and more likelihood of power shortages.

“Conclusions based on inadequate research are not a basis for sound economic policy,” said Layton, in a direct attack on Victoria University Institute of Policy Studies economist Dr Geoff Bertram, whom he accuses of producing graphs that overstate the extent of household power price increases relative to other countries.

Dr Layton is the Chairman of the Electricity Authority, which is the sector equivalent of the Commerce Commission. It is the body that helps regulate the market to try and maximise competition to benefit consumers.

Dr Layton is not a politician or lobbyist. He is not campaigning for votes. His job is to identify what sort of regulatory regime will best deliver for consumers.

Layton also says he would not implement the Labour-Greens’ NZ Power proposal because it would contravene the requirements of the regulator’s legislation “to promote competition in, reliable supply by, and the efficient operation of the electricity industry for the long term benefit of consumers.”

Asked whether he would be able to serve on the Electricity Authority if a Labour-Green government were elected, Layton said: “I personally wouldn’t.”

What he is effectively saying is that their proposal threatens reliable supply. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t want to be the fall guy, should that come to pass.

On central buyer proposals, he said similar policies had been examined four times in the last 25 years and “found wanting in terms of what would be of long term benefit to consumers.

That is not just his view. That was also the view of David Parker when he was Minister of Energy.

What is fascinating is the responses from David Parker and Russel Norman to his paper.

David Parker has done a critique of his analysis. I don’t agree with Parker’s critique, but it is policy based and respectful.

Contrast that to Russel Norman’s response:

“Dr Layton’s extraordinary foray into political debate is nothing more than a National Party-appointed civil servant who has failed to do his job and is now trying to protect his patch,” said Dr Norman.

So once again Dr Norman attacks the man, instead of the issue. Rather Muldoonist, dare I say.

It is worth recalling what the annual increase in electricity CPI have been. For the last ten years they have been:

  • 2003 9.3%
  • 2004 8.8%
  • 2005 4.1%
  • 2006 7.1%
  • 2007 6.5%
  • 2008 7.7%

Then since the election

  • 2009 2.1%
  • 2010 5.8% (of which 2.2% was GST increase, so underlying figure was 3.6%)
  • 2011 2.4%
  • 2012 5.2%

The increases in the last four years have been fairly modest. Excluding the GST change, it has been around 3.3% a year which is higher than desirable but much less than the previous Government.

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