NZ Energy Excellence Awards

Energy and Resources

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa

Ko Megan Woods tōku ingoa

E mihi ana ki te mana whenua o tēnā rohe o tēnā rohe

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa

Good evening, everyone.

I’d like to acknowledge the organisers of this event, Freeman Media, and the attendance of my parliamentary colleagues, Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton, Christchurch Deputy Mayor Pauline Cotter, and from slightly further afield, New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom and South Taranaki Mayor Phil Nixon.

It’s an absolute privilege to be here as Minister of Energy and Resources to recognise and celebrate excellence in our energy sector.

One of the best parts of this job is meeting our energy innovators – people in this room – who are driving our energy transition.

Our sector is at the forefront of New Zealand’s decarbonisation efforts, doing some of the heavy lifting of our Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan, and we’re making progress.

Renewable electricity generation is up to 88% at the start of this year from 82% in 2017. Coal imports are at record lows and coincidentally so are emissions across our economy – their lowest levels in nine years.

But we know we must act faster to meet the challenges posed by our rapidly changing climate.

Auckland’s extreme flooding and the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle across the north-east of New Zealand has changed the narrative on how long we have until we need to mitigate and adapt.

These extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and increasingly severe. We cannot take our eye off the critical job of tackling climate change.

But I want to take this opportunity to award an extra award this evening, it’s not listed in your programme. And sorry Matt, I didn’t discuss this with you in advance.

The damage to electricity distribution and transmission infrastructure from Cyclone Gabrielle was unlike anything we had seen since Cyclone Bola in the 1980s. More than 50,000 homes were without electricity, some for weeks.

But I believe we saw some of the best of our energy sector in those weeks. I know there were many long days and sleepless nights for many in the sector, and I want to recognise everyone involved in that mammoth effort.

Unison had a massive job on their hands, and they moved quickly to reconnect their customers. The solidarity of our distribution companies too was remarkable. Lines crews from across the country converged to get electricity back on.

From here in Christchurch, Orion’s Connetix team travelled to Northland to help at very short notice – thank you Nigel and your team.

In the face of an incredibly challenging string of issues, our sector came together to support each other, and customers, reconnecting downed lines, resupplying fuel to cut-off communities and implementing support measures to help affected customers.

So, in addition to the other awards tonight and in the spirit of excellence in our sector, I want to take this opportunity to thank you across the distribution and transmission businesses and acknowledge your incredible efforts.

But to return to scheduled programming, we’re here tonight in Christchurch to celebrate the achievements of individuals and organisations who are setting new benchmarks for excellence. Through their commitment to innovation, they have paved the way for a future where sustainable energy practices are the norm. They have shown us that practical solutions and progressive approaches can go hand in hand. Everyone in this room has seen that excellence in New Zealand’s energy sector is not just a buzzword, it’s a reality that drives innovation.

The ten award categories tonight represent what New Zealand needs for this transition. All the finalists have demonstrated what can be achieved by working towards our goals.

Well-being and communities – we continue to recognise the importance of people and what we can achieve by working together to promote a just and inclusive transition. This includes those that use social procurement to enduring positive benefits to communities, employees and the environment.

Innovation – taking initiative and finding new and increasingly efficient ways of doing things all the while working towards the global goal of reducing emissions.

Large energy users – we need you to support our economy and to demonstrate how energy-related initiatives can deliver significant benefits.

A low carbon future – as a country we must play our part to reach global goals and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Energy retailers and networks – you provide the safe, secure, and affordable energy that is essential for New Zealanders to not only go about their daily lives but to prosper. By acknowledging successes and focussing on good outcomes for consumers, we set a platform for enabling continuous growth.

And finally, let us celebrate the achievements of our young professionals.

I extend my warmest congratulations to all the finalists. Your achievements represent the results of your hard work, dedication, and willingness to embrace change.

I don’t envy the task the judges faced.

As a sector, we’ve made significant progress over the last six years I’ve been the Minister of Energy and Resources.

We’re delivering New Zealand’s Energy Strategy, improving consenting for new renewable electricity projects, investing in community renewable energy to build more resilient communities, among many, many, many other things.

But one initiative I’m particularly proud of is the Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry Fund, or GIDI for short.

Through GIDI, we’re partnering with businesses to help accelerate their decarbonisation journeys, cutting emissions sooner to help New Zealand meet our bipartisan emissions reductions targets.

In the last six months, we’ve progressed:

  • a partnership with NZ Steel to reduce 800,000 tonnes of climate pollution from its Glenbrook mill each year. That’s the equivalent of taking approximately 300,000 cars, or all the cars in Christchurch, off the road.
  • a partnership with Fonterra to cut coal use at its dairy factories, delivering massive emissions reductions, and future-proofing New Zealand trade and exports.
  • support for 17 industrial energy users to help them stop using fossil fuels faster through Round 5 of GIDI.

Opponents of GIDI have criticised the Government partnering with businesses on these projects as corporate welfare. However, we know GIDI brings emissions forward, which is vital to New Zealand meeting its emissions goals agreed to by the previous government.

I’ve been clear that I would much rather invest to decarbonise New Zealand’s energy system, reducing our emissions and protecting jobs, than buy expensive international carbon credits.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing through GIDI, which is more proof that decarbonisation does not mean de-industrialisation.

In addition to supporting existing job-rich businesses to decarbonise, we’re investing to back our energy innovators, while improving resilience of the electricity grid.

We recognise that managing peak electricity demand in winter will become more challenging in the future, so we want to try some new and innovative ways of solving this problem.

This is why in Budget 2023, we invested $20 million for innovation investment for demand response capability and network resilience.

This new fund will support innovative demand response systems to help manage peak demand and improve network resilience.

I will be making an announcement very shortly on how the Fund will operate and its initial focus.

And in the spirit of supporting innovation, I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Government’s recent announcement with BlackRock on a first of its kind climate infrastructure fund with the goal of making New Zealand one of the first countries in the world to reach 100% renewable electricity.

The launch of this $2 billion fund demonstrates the huge economic potential of New Zealand becoming a global climate leader.

This fund is a massive opportunity for New Zealand innovators to develop and grow companies. With record levels of renewable electricity generation in recent years, New Zealand is well-positioned to be one of the first countries in the world to deliver a fully renewable electricity system.

But investment in New Zealand’s energy transition isn’t limited to BlackRock. We have seen massive international investment commitments in offshore wind, green hydrogen production, and new solar and wind projects, among others. And as a government, we will advocate for New Zealand innovators every day of the week to grow local businesses and create jobs.

The role of government isn’t just about writing cheques or regulations, it’s about showing the world New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to invest in green energy, and I am committed to continuing to do that.

And when combining decarbonisation, innovation, and international investment, it’s natural to think about green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen, as a home-grown next generation fuel source, could fit well into our wider energy and transport system as part of our response to climate change.

It will be a key tool for reducing emissions, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors like aviation and heavy transport, while creating highly skilled jobs in our regions.

That’s why in Budget 2023, the Government moved to kick-start green hydrogen production with a $100 million investment into a green hydrogen contract for difference. This initiative will help make hydrogen a financially viable option, and get green hydrogen production across New Zealand, with a particular focus on Southland and Taranaki.

The green hydrogen rebate will support a small number of early adopters in hard-to-abate industries to reduce their emissions by 150,000 tonnes – equivalent to cancelling out the emissions of hundreds of trucks.

The importance of affordability of energy for consumers is at the centre of the energy transition. The current cost of living crisis further highlights the need for us to have affordable and accessible energy.

The Government has several initiatives underway to address energy hardship:

  • the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme has been extended until June 2027, and will deliver around 26,500 extra insulation and heating retrofits each year
  • Last week I was pleased to announce the fourth and largest funding round of $2.95 million for the successful Support for Energy Education in Communities (SEEC) Programme
  • the Winter Energy Payment, which provides additional payments for New Zealanders to help with energy costs from May to October every year.

To reach our climate goals, change and action is needed across New Zealand – and energy has a huge role to play in reaching our 2050 targets.

The New Zealand Energy Strategy will support the transition to a low emissions economy, address strategic challenges in the energy sector, and signal pathways away from fossil fuels.

To advance the next stage of our energy transition I have released five energy transition discussion documents. The documents, currently out for consultation, address key elements of our future energy system.

The consultations include:

  • a plan for managing the gas industry’s transition to a low emissions future
  • an Interim Hydrogen Roadmap to set out the government’s initial views on the future role of hydrogen in New Zealand
  • regulations to enable offshore renewable energy development
  • market measures to make sure electricity is reliable and affordable as we transition to an expanded and more renewable system
  • and how we will implement the Emissions Reduction Plan action to ban new fossil fuel baseload electricity generation.

The input of organisations and people from across the energy sector, as we shape New Zealand’s future energy system, is crucial. I encourage you all to read and provide feedback on these documents, which will inform an Energy Strategy set for release at the end of 2024.

I want to finish my speech tonight by talking about what I believe is one of the most exciting opportunities for the energy sector: boosting diversity.

Over my time as Energy Minister, I have attended events with many of you in this room. What has struck me in there are only a handful of women and young people in the room. This must change.

There is a wealth of talent in New Zealand and our sector is worse off not providing more opportunities for more diversity. I’m heartened by the development of groups such as the Young Energy Professionals and Women in Energy to pressure businesses within our sector to be more inclusive.

But there is plenty more work to do. I challenge everyone here in this room tonight and in the broader energy sector that we must do more to foster up-and-coming talent, who may look different to the traditional energy worker.

Not only is increasing diversity across our sector the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart business decision. There are significant benefits for a more diverse workforce. It is the responsibility of businesses within our sector to invest in this new talent and provide opportunities to those who have typically been left out of our sector, particularly women.

It is an exciting time in sector. I am confident the steps that Government and industry are taking will help to bring Aotearoa into sustainable and low emissions future while simultaneously upholding and improving the resilience and affordability of energy across the sector.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to address you all today, and congratulations to all the deserving finalists. Your dedication and vision are an inspiration. I look forward the evening to come.