"Crusher" Collins drives energy policy in a new direction
By Richard Harman (author)
Judith Collins made her name – literally – with her proposal that boy racers' cars should be crushed.
But these days “Crusher’s” war on petrol heads is taking a different track.
In her new role as Energy Minister she’s the latest Cabinet Minister to get excited about electric cars.
Her predecessor, Simon Bridges got so enthusiastic he went and bought one.
Now after a trip to Silicon Valley Collins is talking them up.
“They make sense in New Zealand because of the high level; of renewables that we have,” she told POLITIK.
"But what doesn't make sense to expect is that everybody is going to charge off and take them up today.
“The issue for a lot of people at the moment is that they cost a lot more than conventional cars.”
Given Collins’ well known “dry’ views on Government subsidies and intervention, there's probably not much point in asking her whether she favours any form of Government assistance to encourage take-up.
And predictably she’s not enthusiastic.
“We already have a subsidy that is provided to electric vehicle owners though many of them don't know about it, and that is that they don't pay road user charges.
“So they are already getting subsidised by those of us who use petrol or diesel.”
She believes that the main take-up will come from fleets.
But her trip to the US was not just to Silicon Valley ---
in Texas she led a petroleum sector trade delegation
which included representatives from New Zealand Oil and Gas, Todd Energy and the Petroleum Exploration & Production Association of
New Zealand, to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists' Annual Convention & Exhibition in Houston, as well as meeting with exploration and service companies to discuss investment opportunities in New Zealand.
She found there was still interest in New Zealand as an exploration prospect.
“We’re attractive in lots of ways, where we are not as attractive is we are considered more frontier because we don’t have all of our known quantities out there which is why it is important to know what we do have.
“But we also have things like the southern ocean can be difficult.
"So there’s pros and cons with New Zealand in terms of exploration.”
She says that we would be likely to become more attractive as oil prices rise.
Not only does the physical nature of New Zealand – particularly in the offshore areas – poses challenges to the industry but also the cost of operating here is high.
"We have very high standards of health and safety, and environmental protection and all of those things cost money.
“But the industry also sees us as a good place to do business.”
When she looks at her whole energy portfolio, she worries that there is a view that "you are either for new technologies or you are for oil and gas."
"The fact is that it is a mixture and it will be for some time.”
It is a particularly pragmatic view but which recognises that the new technologies are on their way.
She sees real prospects for a California company, Wrightspeed, headed by a New Zealander, Ian Wright, which is retrofitting heavy vehicles like garbage trucks and buses with electric engines.
And she has seen new ideas coming from Californian communities who are going off the grid and generating their own electricity from solar or wind.
She believes that will happen here too.
“Yo are going to find that where it makes sense people will start doing something like this."
In a political sense this is a surprising conversation; Collins, the hard line, free market social conservative sounding like a Green from a few years ago.
But it reflects a real change taking place in New Zealand politics; that what were once policies the Greens had to themselves are now starting to become mainstream.
Of course the Greens and Collins differ over her belief that there is still la place for fossil fuels.
But even so, it’s a long way from Mr “Think Big”, Bill Birch and the oil based development programme that Sir Robert Muldoon tried to put in place 40 years ago.