If you live in one of these areas of Auckland, someone in your household can vote in the current Entrust election:
As a climate campaigner, I am hoping the election can lead to some better climate outcomes. But I also think the electricity system isn’t served democratically. I am writing about the election in the hope of encouraging more people to realise the importance of the election, vote, and demand a more democratic voting system.
Giving the vote to one member of the household – the power account holder – is:
- Disempowering, for flatmates who pay their fair share of the powerbill but don’t get any vote;
- Regressive, because a household with a family in each room has the same number of votes as a single person household;
- Potentially patriarchal, or at least gives the voting rights to whoever has dominance in unbalanced relationships;
- Inequitable between generations, because it means adult children living in their parents’ homes don’t get to vote.
In short, society has moved past undemocratic voting systems in which the vote is given to the “head of the household”. It’s possibly one of several systemic problems with how Entrust is run that has contributed to a low voter turnout. Last time, only 12% of eligible voters voted.
At this election, there’s a serious challenge to the encumbent Communities & Residents team on the trust, by a group called More for You, Better for Climate.
So who are Entrust?
Here’s what Entrust say:
Entrust is a private trust established in 1993. It acts in the interests of its beneficiaries, over 346,000 households and businesses in Auckland, Manukau, northern Papakura and eastern Franklin.
Entrust’s key asset is a 75.1% shareholding in Vector. As the major shareholder in Vector and through our two Trustee directors on the Vector board, we make sure we fulfil our responsibilities to beneficiaries by maintaining proper oversight of Vector’s operations.
Entrust was formed as part of reforms to the electricity industry in 1993.
Entrust was originally called the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust or AECT. In 2016 we changed our name to Entrust, a simple combination of energy and trust.
In case it’s useful, I’ll also add who they are not:
Entrust are not an electricity retailer, of whom we have many in Auckland:
Entrust are not a distributor of electricity. Auckland’s distributor is Vector:
We are New Zealand’s largest distributor of electricity and gas, owning and operating networks which span the Auckland region… We generally own the lines, poles and equipment up to the point of supply
Entrust do not operate the National Grid. That’s Transpower:
Transpower is the State Owned Enterprise that owns and operates the National Grid – or high voltage transmission network – that carries electricity around the country.
The National Grid is made up of over 12,000 km of transmission lines and more than 170 substations. Electricity is transmitted over the grid at high voltages (up to 220,000 volts) from power stations to local lines companies and major industries.
And Entrust do not generate electricity. Electricity generators include the big five: Contact Energy, Genesis Energy, Mercury Energy, Meridian Energy, and Trustpower, and smaller generators, including: WEL Networks, NZ Windfarms, NZ Energy, MainPower, Pioneer and Top Energy.
Entrust are simply a “community trust” with the majority share in Vector, our electricity distribution company.
What’s not so clear is exactly how Entrust then choose the Vector Board members to govern Vector. And this is where it gets interesting. A community trust should be transparent about the governance structures, especially for an asset like Vector which is both major and which can influence our climate outcomes.
Also, Vector is the electricity distribution company for a far wider area:
While the history of how this came to be makes sense from an ownership and financial point of view, it does not make sense from a democratic point of view. Vector should have democratic input to its governance from the people in the whole area in which Vector operates.
So why is it important?
Todd Niall discussed some points of difference between the major candidate teams in a Stuff piece a week ago.
Rod Oram covered a number of issues last month, ranging from the shambles of how Entrust operates, to some interesting information about ReCosting Energy – the work by a UK think tanks on energy regulations to drive carbon cuts, to what is holding Vector back:
the old economy model of electricity regulation is severely hampering the ability of Vector and other innovators to invest more, faster and more flexibly in a 21st century electricity sector. Some 55 percent of its capital expenditure is ruled by these old regulations, while Vector is free to deploy the other 45 percent in commercial ways appropriate for fast-forwarding technology change.
Biographies for all 15 candidates are available on the Entrust website.
The More for You, Better for Climate team outline their policies on their website, and were interviewed by Chloe Swarbrick yesterday:
One of the issues is that of where powerlines are undergrounded.
More for You, Better for Climate want to see the decision-making on the topic become more transparent and equitable. On their campaign website, they show their analysis of the data that Vector publish about the number of projects completed in each suburb:
Candidate Emma McInnes says,
$10.5 million is spent every year by Entrust doing this. That is not $10.5 million that Vector is choosing to spend, that is $10.5 million that the trustees on Entrust are directly diverting into the suburbs they prefer for political purposes. So much of South and East Auckland is missing out on this powerline undergrounding programme. And arguably, these are the suburbs that need it most, suburbs that are exposed to extreme storms (like tornados in Papatoetoe) and weather events that easily take out power lines and cut off electricity to poorer households.
Hopefully this issue gets tackled regardless of the outcome of the election; it’s certainly embarrassing for Vector to have it revealed.
What about the climate?
So can Entrust influence Vector to be more climate- and equity-focused, improving outcomes for Aucklanders – present and future?
Modernising our energy infrastructure over the next decade for our climate response will impact the industrial, energy and transport sectors in a number of ways. Yet communications usually only mention electrification.
In fact, decarbonisation of industry is about better logistics, greener operating models, a circular economy and redefining success – as much as it is about electrification. And decarbonisation of transport is about modeshift – through safer streets and better public transport, shared rather than private vehicle ownership, smaller vehicles, a regenerated, quality compact city – as well as about electrification of the fleet.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Vector understand their role in this complex transition. I did a word search in their annual report for: pedestrian, cycle, cycling, poles, undergrounding, streets, streetscapes, logistics, freight, and I checked each entry. The annual report entirely ignores Vector’s ability to influence modeshift to active or public modes.
In line with the sector’s focus on decarbonisation being solely about electrification, it does mention the Fuso trial of electric trucks which Vector Ongas was involved with, which could feed some electrification and logistics information back to the parent company, Vector:
But if Vector was to adopt a game-changing responsible corporate position on climate change, in order to set Auckland up for the best possible future, what would that look like?
Here are a few suggestions from my point of view:
Power poles are sometimes right in the middle of the paved part of a footpath, significantly interrupting the ability of people in wheelchairs or with strollers to move, and generally impacting on walking amenity and safety. Vector should have a programme that prioritises streets with such poles for undergrounding, or where that cannot happen, to either move the poles or widen the footpaths beside the poles.
A safe transport system
Damage and disruption to the electricity network due to vehicles crashing into power poles affects Vector’s assets, so it shouldn’t be too much of an ask for Vector to step up to responsible corporate messaging about safety. We need a safe transport system, with Vision Zero speed limits, and proper enforcement. Vector should hold a position on this, as it affects the bottom line.
Services under the pedestrian realm
Services are being damaged by vehicles driving and parking on them, eg under the berms, and ratepayers are having to pay for that damage to be fixed. Even when it’s a water or a sewer pipe damaged, the digging to repair it then puts all the services at risk (and in some cases the workers under a public health risk). The situation is a result of lax enforcement.
Responsible corporate utility owners could use their might to force Auckland Transport’s hand, protect their assets and demand proper enforcement against the illegal berm parking. This would save Aucklanders money, reduce risks, potentially save lives, and return the public realm to people, thus helping the climate goals of modeshift and the creation of liveable streets.
Street trees – being a good partner
During the redesign of streetscapes, Vector could improve its game as a responsible partner for Auckland Transport and Council. Clearly, it would be good if all the work could be coordinated in a “dig once” philosophy. But the situation is even worse than this: when Auckland Transport wants to redesign a streetscape, not only are Vector usually not ready to underground their powerlines there, they will also say the street trees may need to come out when they do.
In reality, if there’s a whisper of any public opposition, Vector rarely actually remove the trees, as they can almost always use directional drilling if necessary.
By refusing to commit to retaining the trees, though, it puts Auckland Transport’s designers into the position of having to assume they might be removed later. And in the balancing act involved in a streetscape design, this makes it harder for the designers to justify keeping the trees. As the public don’t want to lose street trees, this creates an unnecessary battle between cycling and trees.
Vector’s ‘risk averse’ policy therefore is leading to the loss of trees, and reducing support for local implementation of cycling infrastructure and preventing the cycling network from progressing.
This has major climate implications, because cycling is a big part of transport decarbonisation.
To introduce biodiversity and habitat, to improve liveability and reduce the urban heat effect, the number of new street trees that Auckland needs to plant over the next decade is significant: we only have about 150,000, and we need at least 600,000 more.
These new street trees need to be species that can form a full canopy over the streets.
Vector’s go-slow on undergrounding the powerlines has restricted the very tree species we can choose (with size and pruning needs). The sooner the powerlines can be undergrounded, the sooner we will be able to plant trees for a better future.
Please Discuss This
Entrust has the potential to direct Vector well, if its trust members are chosen wisely. The impacts of this election extend to many other issues I don’t have space to include. Please discuss them in the comments.
If your household has a vote, please remember how lucky you are – plenty of households don’t.
And if you are the holder of the power account, you’re doubly blessed. Have fun with your democratic discussions and decision-making. Voting closes 29th but remember the post can take a few days.