My role as a Member of Parliament's Commerce Select Committee sometimes gives me a chance to visit places I'd not normally get to see up close and personal.
I was recently invited to visit Ngawha geothermal power station outside of Kaikohe, operated by Top Energy, a significant generator in the Far North. The plant generates about 70 per cent of electricity consumed in the region. Top Energy is also a lines company, providing transmission capability across the region.
We discussed its operations and historical regulation; for some time after the regulatory changes in the 90s, Top Energy was unusual in being both a generator and a lines company. It is concerned that proposed changes to the way transmission pricing is calculated will unreasonably increase its transmission connection costs. It also hopes to be allowed to beef up its generation capacity, capped at the moment because the company is both a generator and a lines company.
Interestingly, Top Energy is open to using its its infrastructure to provide better broadband coverage to rural Northland. My select committee is, at present, considering telecommunications legislation and has now called for public submissions on a proposal to allow the use of existing power poles and associated easements to install fibre across rural areas, providing connection capability to each property the lines cross.
From my point of view, the timing of my meeting with Top Energy couldn't have been better.
While in Northland, I was also able to meet Kerikeri honey producers Manuka Mountain Ltd. It's expanding as it's very bullish about its prospects. At present, it's a wholesale supplier, shipping large barrels of honey to packers for domestic consumption and for export.
The firm will shortly build a new factory and storage facility on its current site and plans to go into the honey-packing business at the same time, selling its own brand of retail honey goods.
Top Energy and Manuka Mountain weren't the only enterprises I was able to call on while in the north. I had time to visit Mt Pokaka Timber -- a sawmill, also in Kerikeri. The firm deals in rough-sawn timber products. The chief financial officer gave me a helpful hint: build houses with rough-sawn timber and save a fortune. I must tell Housing Minister Nick Smith ...
It was a wonderful trip up North and I thank Phil Walker, local MP Support, for organising the agenda.