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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Manukau Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand, this month. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

New Zealand's prime minister has pledged to achieve 100% renewable energy in the country by 2030 if her party wins re-election in October.

Why it matters: NZ plunged on Thursday into its worst recession in over 30 years, after its GDP fell 12.2% following two straight quarters of negative growth amid some of the world's toughest pandemic restrictions, though the drop was less than the 23.5% decrease projected in the May budget.

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during a briefing Thursday that the focus was now "about the rebound."
  • Robert McLachlan, a professor at Massey University's School of Fundamental Sciences, told Axios Labour's decision to bring its renewable energy goal forward by five years for its COVID-19 economic recovery plans is "ambitious, but it's doable."

The big picture: Ardern said in a statement announcing the plans, "The COVID-19 economic recovery represents a once in a generation opportunity to reshape New Zealand’s energy system to be more renewable faster, affordable and secure."

  • New Zealand already produces 84% of its electricity from renewable sources, but Labour has pledged NZ$70 million (U.S. $47 million) to "accelerate a potential dry year storage solution," such as a pumped hydro scheme at Lake Onslow on the South Island.

Zoom in: Judith Collins, leader of the opposition National Party, told RNZ Labour's policy would see electricity costs rise by up to 40% and predicted thousands of people would lose their jobs as a result.

  • Energy Minister Megan Woods said in an emailed statement to Axios that Labour was investigating the pumped hydro scheme to "shift away from our reliance on expensive fossil fuels and enable the development of more renewable generation."
  • "We believe this can lead to lower electricity prices over the longer term and accelerate the electrification of our economy," she added.
"If we proceed with the Lake Onslow project it is likely to create between 3,500 and 4,500 construction jobs, the initial investigation phase itself would employ hundreds of engineers and consultants."
— Energy Minister Megan Woods

Between the lines: McLachlan said analysis by the expert proposing the Lake Onslow scheme "suggests that it will actually lower" electricity prices. This notes claims a 40% rise in costs for renewable electricity are inaccurate as they do not account for a pumped hydro scheme.

  • "Even counting the cost of building it, you could still lower electricity in the long-run because you just end up with a much more robust system," McLachlan said.
  • "At the moment, we have .... what’s called the dry air risk. If there's a year of low rainfall, which happens every five or 10 years, there’s actually not enough electricity to go around, so the prices go really high and there’s a shortage."

The bottom line: McLachlan said the Lake Onslow scheme would be a longterm solution "that has the capacity to almost completely de-carbonise the whole society."

For the record: Ardern delayed the country's election until Oct. 17 as authorities work to stamp out a coronavirus cluster in NZ's most populous city, Auckland, after the virus' re-emergence in NZ.

Go deeper

Oct 30, 2020 - World

New Zealanders vote to legalize euthanasia in referendum

A voter casts her referendum and election ballots in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Rebecca Falconer/Axios

New Zealanders have voted to back the End of Life Choice Bill, which allows voluntary euthanasia for adults living in the country who have terminal illnesses, preliminary results announced by the NZ Electoral Commission show.

By the numbers: 65.2% voted in favor of the bill and 33.8% opposed it.

Updated Oct 28, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: How the pandemic has changed the energy industry

On Wednesday, October 29 Axios' Amy Harder hosted a conversation on the pandemic's effects on the environment, the energy industry, and how these shifts will have a lasting impact on the private sector's approach to renewable energy. The conversation featured Sunrun co-founder and CEO Lynn Jurich and New York's deputy secretary for energy and environment Ali Zaidi.

Lynn Jurich discussed the shift to renewable energy and the technology making renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

  • On the next biggest global challenge in renewable energy: "How do you decarbonize this energy industry globally?...I view this very much as an opportunity and something where the U.S. should really be just moving faster on this. And that's why I look to the Biden program to help us."
  • On new technologies in the energy space: "We're just scratching the surface of the existing lithium-ion battery technology. If we combine that technology with renewable energy, we can go a long way to decarbonizing our energy system."

Ali Zaidi unpacked Gov. Cuomo's statewide plans around renewable energy, from centering issues of race and equity, as well as New York state's initiative to get to 70% renewable electricity by 2030.

  • On the goals of New York's energy policy plans: "It's an opportunity to advance jobs. It's an opportunity to advance justice. And it's an opportunity to advance our climate ambitions. That's the playbook Gov. Cuomo has laid out."
  • How energy is an equity issue: "What we are seeing increasingly is the intersecting and interconnected challenges of race, of equity and of the environment. And what that reveals to us is a real opportunity. Coming out of this pandemic to build back better."

Axios Chief Revenue Officer Fabricio Drummond hosted a View from the Top segment with Cognite co-founder and CEO John Markus Lervik and discussed the role of technology in increasing usage of renewable energy.

  • "For renewables and renewable transformation, [it is] fully dependent on digital transformation. Technology is the single most important driver for more sustainable and environmentally friendly operations."

Thank you Cognite for sponsoring this event.

Oct 29, 2020 - World

Jeremy Corbyn suspended by U.K. Labour Party over anti-Semitism report

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The U.K. Labour Party has suspended its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, after a watchdog report found that the party failed to properly take action against allegations of anti-Semitism during his time in charge.

Why it matters: It represents a strong break by Keir Starmer, Labour's current leader, from the Corbyn era and one of the party's most persistent scandals.