Jones dismisses Ministry warning not to touch waste-to-energy scheme

A grant from the Provincial Growth Fund for a feasibility study for a West Coast waste-to-energy scheme was put on hold when RNZ revealed that it’s chief executive had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office, but RNZ now also reveals that the Environment Ministry had warned that it didn’t stack up financially or environmentally – but Shane Jones says that that was trivial and he would have ignored the warning and funded the feasibility study.

RNZ: Experts warned govt not to touch waste-to-energy scheme

The government announced hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for a proposed waste-to-energy scheme two days after experts advised it was a lemon.

The Environment Ministry warned the Provincial Growth Fund that the proposed project on the West Coast did not stack up economically or environmentally.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones placed the proposed scheme on ice in February after RNZ informed him its chief executive, Gerard Gallagher, had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

Now, advice obtained under the Official Information Act shows the Environment Ministry warned the scheme had enormous flaws just two days before Mr Jones announced $350,000 for its feasibility study.

Not only would the scheme undermine other incentives to reduce waste – like recycling, it would increase carbon emissions the experts cautioned.

The Environment Ministry warned the project relied upon “unrealistic expectations”.

It said those behind the scheme “do not demonstrate an understanding of the South Island waste market”, “had not secured adequate feedstock for the project”, “the business case and budget are not adequately formed”, and “the applicant demonstrated key misunderstandings of the New Zealand context including the “erroneous assumption all landfills are required to close by 2040”.

But Jones dismisses this advice.

Mr Jones said he never received the advice and even if he had it would have made no difference.

“I haven’t seen that email, but look I wouldn’t catastrophise such trivial events – the bureaucrats will constantly be trading streams of analysis among themselves.”

Mr Jones said even if he had been aware of the Environment Ministry’s position it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

“It makes not one jot of difference to me – a feasibility study should be able to flush all such information out,” Mr Jones said.

“And if the thing dies as a consequence of a feasibility study that’s why private sector and public sector should do feasibility studies.”

That’s a concern on two levels.

Funding schemes against expert advice does not look good – it adds weight to suspicions that it is more of a NZ First slush fund than genuine regional development.

And does Jones get to decide who the Provincial Growth Fund hands money out to? The Fund is supposed to have an Independent Advisory Panel:

Provincial Growth Fund open for business

“We are being bold and we are being ambitious because this Government is committed to ending the years of neglect. Nearly half of us live outside our main cities. If this country is to do well, then our provinces must thrive.

“Our first regional packages support the regions most neglected by the last government: in Northland, Tairāwhiti-East Coast, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatū-Whanganui and the West Coast of the South Island.

The last one of those refers to the waste-to-energy scheme.

“An Independent Advisory Panel has been appointed to assist the decision-making of ministers and officials, supported by a new Regional Economic Development Unit within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to work directly with regions, ensuring this isn’t a Wellington-driven Fund.

“The announcements we’re making today are just the beginning and I’m looking forward to building on this momentum over the coming weeks, months and years and realising the untapped potential of our provinces,” Mr Jones says.

I hope there is more momentum towards heeding expert advice.

11 Comments

  1. Also:

  2. Speaking only to the environmental and social issues, Sweden has been burning rubbish for years, with various claims of reduced or minimal emissions. The extremes will always argue the extremes but NZ should be interested in a study or business case that looks at both sides, cost-benefits, opportunity costs etc.
    http://nordic.businessinsider.com/foreign-media-reports-sweden-has-run-out-of-garbage-and-is-forced-to-import—heres-whats-really-going-on-2016-12/

  3. David

     /  April 4, 2018

    https://www.parliament.nz/en/watch-parliament/ondemand?itemId=199181

    This one looks like fun too. The taxpayer gives 5.8 million to a tribe to grow trees from seeds and then the the taxpayers will buy the saplings off the tribe to plant perhaps on tribal land where there no doubt will be a rent paid then who knows who gets the revenue from the mature trees when they are logged.

  4. David

     /  April 4, 2018

    With 3 billion dollars it looks like they have calculated that the taxpayers wont notice 5 million here and 5 million there and the media will take little notice, the upside to NZ First in the regions is those small amounts will be noticed and they only need to get to 5% so its not a lot to pay per vote for them.

  5. duperez

     /  April 4, 2018

    Some hope there is more momentum towards heeding expert advice while others are wary of expert advice and hope that the ‘expert advice’ is verified and validated and not blindly accepted.

  6. PDB

     /  April 4, 2018

    The new govt spending money like drunken sailors, money created by the previous govt, & their only answer in order to continue the spending spree is to hit tax payers hard in the back pocket.

    The NZL First ‘slush fund’, that seems to be at the total discretion of an MP who couldn’t even be trusted not to buy porn on his ministerial credit card, is a reminder of how much Labour sold the country out in order to gain power.

  7. Gezza

     /  April 4, 2018

    And does Jones get to decide who the Provincial Growth Fund hands money out to? The Fund is supposed to have an Independent Advisory Panel

    Jones was asked last week in Parliament whether there were any criteria that had to be met by projects to be funded by the Provincial Growth Fund. His response was smarmy & cavalier – it amounted to “I, the Provincial Champion, only have to consult with four other Ministers” (or words to that general effect).

    This billion dollar regional development fund looks like having the potential for corruption & cronyism & this government is looking like, finally, there’s something they might be good at! This is the sort of stash of cash rampantly exploited by corrupt politicians in some poor countries in Africa.

  8. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 4, 2018

    Appalling. Time for more baby talk.

  9. artcroft

     /  April 4, 2018

    The true test is whether any of these entities receiving this taxpayer windfall would put any of their money in these ventures. My guess is no.

  10. More on this from Stuff:

    Regional Development Minister Shane Jones says he was unaware of official advice warning him off funding a West Coast rubbish burning scheme.

    This is despite an email provided by his office suggesting the warning from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) was raised with him before the funding was announced.

    When the MfE advice was referred to Jones on Wednesday, he said he had not seen it.

    However an email dated February 21, from regional development director John Doorbar to MfE counterparts, said their concerns had been raised “with Minister Jones and we’ve come up with a pretty good compromise that ensures that the MfE issues are addressed and that we don’t stop all hope on the West Coast”.

    The Doorbar email said: “The feasibility studies can go ahead with a requirement that MfE are involved in assessment of the project and component parts. This will give opportunities for the issues that you raise to be raised and assessed before commercial decisions are considered.”

    Jones said Doorbar would be correct about raising the advice with him but he could not remember the discussion.

    He said the MfE’s concerns would have made no difference to his decision.

    “I don’t recall the advice but I’m prepared to stand by the fact that John did tell me but the fact I can’t recall it bothers me not one jot. The prospect of it embarrassing me is inversely related to the truth. It takes a hell of a lot more to embarrass me.

    “It would not have made any difference to me anyway.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/102829290/shane-jones-cant-recall-official-misgivings-about-west-coast-project-he-funded