Creating jobs with FIT for renewable energy


So how about this picture. If the Government gives us interest free loans to install solar panels on roofs, we could reduce the need for expanding coal and oil based electricity, whilst maintaining our geothermal and hydro production.

The Government would set up Feed In Tariffs enabling power companies to purchase spare power units to feed in to the grid to supplement its own resources and those of the community as and when required.

The technology would include smart meters where appliances and power consumption may be monitored by the consumer This is already available in NZ from companies such as SmartNow. This is very important because it educates consumers of all ages  as to the impact of each household appliance.

Smart Meter

You would be able to monitor this on your SmartPhone as well as the touch screen in your home, perhaps even control appliances remotely. Now you will know if you turn your 3 TV’s off instead of having them on stand by, exactly how much energy and cost you are saving.

Many of our household devices are developing sufficient intelligence to be turned on and off remotely. This can apply to anything from your stove or microwave, to your TV Set Top Box, washing machine, heating etc.

Kiwis are very clever. With a little encouragement and support, we could have people coming up with new technologies for smoothing power, sharing and reticulating, designing solar panels that look good and work more efficiently in our environment.

Whole new industries and thousands of jobs would come out of this. Educators, estimators, designers, manufacturers, installers, inspectors, service people, finance companies, new boutique electrical companies, to name a few.

New Zealand is an island and we can be potentially isolated from gas and fossil fuels, especially if the worst happened and a serious war broke out somewhere on the planet.

Do you think that in the Middle East, Europe or USA, they would be saying, oh don’t forget New Zealand, we must set aside x number of tonnes of crude for our antipodean mates down under? But I digress. We are smart people and I think we could create not only some serious domestic growth, but our inventions spawned from this adventure could also contribute to some huge potential export revenue through the innovations that we would produce.

We also made a commitment to being clean and green. Digging up coal and gas doesn’t exactly honor that commitment, although I agree we need the money. Maybe we can’t do it with solar and wind alone, but if we could produce even half of our requirements from our roofs whilst at the same time reducing power consumption through smarter use and education, wouldn’t that be cool?

We could also lead in international design and R & D, with companies like Fisher & Paykel in the development of new technologies that burn much less power, including heating, consumer electronics and more. We need revival of new companies like Gallagher, Rakon and Taits, which have shown that we can be world leaders in technology. Those number 8 fencing wire companies we are so proud of.

The problem is that all of this needs to start with the politicians and all I seem to hear from them is that the coal, oil and gas is worth a lot of money and we should sell them. OK, if we need to do that because New Zealand is insolvent, then do it, but put the money earned into renewables, try to make ourselves self sufficient and then develop export revenues by exporting the technologies we built and developed locally, exploiting our IP. Kiwis are smart people.

Come on National, Labour and Green Parties, lets take a long term view beyond the next election. Change only happens when you do something different. Make it happen and you can have the credit if that is what drives your ambitions, but lets show our leadership.

I didn’t mention tourism, but I don’t think people really buy into clean green anymore. Lets show them we can be clean and green and beautiful and then generate export revenue out of our new skills and industries.

As a footnote, a quote by Farrell J. January 2011 on the Ontario FIT which started in 2009 from New Rules Project:

Ontario’s clean energy program encourages local ownership and distributed generation, in part to broaden support for renewable energy and in part to capture the increased economic impact generated from local ownership.

The domestic content requirement has already resulted in the promise of 43,000 jobs and dozens of new manufacturing plants to support the 5,000 MW of new clean energy.

As a footnote, imagine if the panel didn’t have to be on your roof, but could be on every one of your windows and you could see through it? That’s what MIT is hoping for. 

What FIT’s could do for NZ


Having teased the concept of Feed in Tariffs over the last few blogs  I’d like to get a bit more detailed. So in NZ the government has provided subsidies for roofing insulation, especially for older houses that were not built as efficiently from an energy perspective.

That is good in that it may reduce the need for heating, which is the biggest consumer of energy. A large percentage of energy sources pollute the atmosphere, damage the ozone layer and produce carbon waste. I’ve explored the fact that solar power is a renewable source that produces very little waste, mainly in manufacturing, packaging and installation, marginal issues.

The ideal scenario for me is interest free loans from the Government to cover the cost of purchase and installation of solar panel systems for both domestic and business. There are some lessons overseas where businesses have exploited the opportunities for subsidies and rebates and in some cases they have benefited from the interest free finance and feed in tariffs more than the public. This needs to be considered, but even where that happens, they are still producing energy in forms preferable to oil and coal and other non renewable or potentially dangerous sources.

So the basic idea is that consumers can get an interest free loan to have solar panels and related equipment installed in their homes. The systems include meters and technology that allows people to understand how electricity is being used in their homes, where is it being wasted. They can use the power they generate for free (keeping in mind they do have a long term loan to repay) and when they have excess power, they can sell it to the power companies for a tariff that is mutually agreeable.

A key point that I have raised through out this discussion is redundancy in the case of emergencies. Every time we have had a major emergency people have been without power. As recently as the aftershocks in Christchurch yesterday 17 April 2011, parts of Christchurch were without power for a couple of hours, but previously it has been days and weeks.

UK has had local FIT’s for a couple of years and other countries have had them for several years. There have been many benefits from this. One of the big ones that people don’t automatically think about is job creation. This happens at all levels. Industries to benefit include finance, manufacturing, installation, inspection, education and more. One of the great things about not being first in the industry, we can get our clever Kiwi inventors coming up with new technologies and inventions which will find a ready export market. Many new industries will spawn from this as new developments are made. Mobile technologies will allow control of what appliances are active from your smart phone. You’ll be able to turn off non essential appliances when you are at work, on holiday etc, whilst still monitoring what is going on and being able to turn the hot water back on while you are on your way home.

For business there is the rent a roof program where people can generate income from their roof, while someone else looks after generating the power and selling it into the grid and to the building occupier. This is extremely scalable. In fact in the UK, many roofs rented by power companies are domestic!

Rented roof

Electricity, disasters and Feed In Tariffs


I’ve been itching to write more about FIT for ages as you will know if you have been reading my blogs. If you didn’t, my last blog was pretty much a summary of my thoughts which started with the Christchurch earthquake.

Prior to that for a few years I have been wondering why a ‘clean green’ country like New Zealand only went so far as to provide subsidies for roof insulation and clean heating. Where is the NZ Green Party on FIT, I asked 2 years ago. I’m not even sure where the party is on much at all at the moment and its election year, when National has launched its new policies on oil and gas and other efficient power sources like coal.

In fairness I do have to acknowledge that Environment Minister Nick Smith did through caution to the wind at the NZ Wind Energy Conference this month, but he also made the point that you need windy places and probably also noted the frequent opposition any time someone wants to set up a wind farm. Personally I like them and if they are silent, I wouldn’t have a problem looking up at them on a hill somewhere.

Dutch windfarm

I have 2 interests here, the first one is renewable energy in the form of solar panels, with the ability to feed power into the grid, but also the ability to make individual households and businesses more resilient in times of crisis.

The common thread anywhere in the world when there is a disaster is that the power goes off. In my recent posts this month I have discussed a whole range of issues where we are so reliant on electricity today that there are a variety of problems after the crisis is over.

I want to again acknowledge the heroism of electricity workers and supporters who risked life and limb to get things up and running as quickly as possible.

Anyway, back to my story. Imagine if we followed on from the subsidies to put insulation into our roofs, by offering subsidies and Feed In Tariffs for installing solar panels on the roofs. This is something we should be doing anyway, but imagine if a large number of people were still able to have at least some electricity when the grid is down. They would still potentially have phone communication, they would have lighting, heating, the ability to wash themselves and much more.

We could find ourselves with a renewable energy source that doesn’t pollute, makes people much more aware of power consumption, involves the community and provides greater resilience while allowing us to get closer to meeting our commitments to reducing carbon waste that we so obligingly adopted with the Kyoto Protocol.

It has been said that I am wont to be verbose. I don’t necessarily want to change that because I am intensely interested in what I write about, however I don’t want to lose you dear reader (borrowed that from Stephen King). So here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to write an new series of shortish blogs on the benefits of FIT for New Zealand in the hope that more people will understand the massive potential benefits to New Zealand and put some pressure on the politicians and energy authorities to do something about it.

I’ve done some reading on the topic and found the paper by Miguel Mendonca of the Birkbeck Institute of Environment, Birkbeck College, University of London particularly helpful. He also wrote the book Feed-in-Tariffs Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy. You can find more information here. He discovered that FIT could work in the UK, that it had many positive benefits above and beyond the basics of a renewable energy source and I plan to discuss some of these from a New Zealand context. I also find it interesting that some people (who perhaps are the ones who wanted Henry Ford to breed faster horses instead of horseless carriages) say there is not enough sunlight in NZ to create an acceptable level of energy. Kiwis who go to UK for their OE’s don’t often come back recounting stories of endless sunny days.

So lets explore what FIT’s and solar power can do for NZ, for our resilience, for our GDP, for our commitment to the environment, for industry, for entrepreneurs and to generally show the world that we are in fact as green as we say we are. There are some amazing benefits to be had along the way.

Please come back and check out what I have learned.

Doesnt look that shabby

The practice of dumping excess fuel from aircraft


Qantas has had some bad press lately, having to abort several flights due to engine or other malfunctions. The most recent was when a flight to Buenos Aires from Sydney returned to Sydney yesterday after smoke was detected in the cockpit. A few days earlier a Qantas flight from Perth to Melbourne returned to Perth not long after take off due to engine trouble. In all 4 Qantas flights have been unable to reach their destination in less than 2 weeks.

In the overall scheme of things, this is of concern, but what it got me thinking about was that every time a plane gets turned back to due a malfunction, they dump most of their fuel because it would be dangerous to try to land a plane ‘heavy’ with aviation fuel, especially when there are already technical problems with the flight. Obviously the fuel itself adds weight and restricts low altitude manoeverability, but also represents a major fire/explosion risk.

With the price of fuel, I’m sure that airlines take as much as required to cover contingency plans and civil aviation law will also dictate rules around this. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about how much fuel is dumped from aircraft around the world on a daily basis and what the consequences might be.

According to an enlightening article in Wikipedia  only large aircraft, fitted with fuel dumping systems have the ability to dump fuel. It is not universal. It also says that they generally dump fuel at high altitude which means that most of it dissipates before it hits the ground.

So is it safe? The Institute for Southern Studies found that fuel dumping was behind crop damage in Tennessee. They say that most of the fuel vaporizes and doesn’t reach the ground, yet the net is full of news stories about problems caused by fuel dumping. Of course it could be considered far less risky than an explosion on impact and in my research, there was far more evidence of massive losses of oil at sea from ships.

I found it really difficult to get any sort of statistic of how many fuel dumps happen around the world daily, I know its a lot because of the number of PA’s I have heard from the flight deck on my travels. I’d be interested if anyone has any statistics on this. One thing I do note is that in New Zealand we don’t have problems like acid rain and we have very low flight density. Yes, I do understand that most acid rain comes from heavy industrial pollution.

Anyway, just something I’ve been thinking about. Yes, I would still fly Qantas without hesitation.

A Qantas 380 Dumping Fuel in Flight

Barter, the New Old Economy


I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?

And When I Die


No I’m not talking about my blog, but it is relevant to the podfade. There is so much I want to write about. How thrilled I was about The Hyperfactory achieving their harvest plan and that Derek and Geoffrey are planning on coming back to New Zealand to share their knowledge and help others follow in their successful path. As you know location based services and mobile marketing are amongst my passions.

I would also have liked to talk about the Rex which set foot in New Zealand, just as I was bemoaning the difficulty of Kiwi innovators to capitalise on their ability; again an area that has been of great interest to me. Then of course there is the tentative success of the oil cap on the BP oil well. I have pondered much on Oceanic Dead Zones, whilst the BP accident helps extend them.

Two months ago I was faced with a family crisis. My father in law was told that he had somewhere between 3 days and 2 weeks to live. Life as I know it, pretty much stopped. Our close family was in shock, even though we knew it would come eventually. Before you offer condolences, he is still alive:)

Having developed a taste for tobacco while serving in the air force, 20 years ago he had a laryngectomy as a result of throat cancer. He didn’t take it lying down. He learned to talk again and picked his life up. He became involved with the Lost Chord Club and eventually became President, counselling others through their throat cancer journey. He also visited schools and let children look into his stoma, seeing that he had to breath through a hole in his neck, caused through smoking.

So for most of the last 20 years he was in remission, then the cancer returned and as often is the case 2nd time around, it was not going to be possible to treat it.

So my life and that of my family has changed dramatically for a while and  many of things I have been wanting to do, I haven’t had time for. We spend as much time as we can with him, because once it is over it is totally over.

It strikes me that whilst we all know that from the moment we are born, we can be certain of one thing (I have blogged about people (such as some from Singularity University) are doing everything they can to avoid it) it appears that death is a given for each of us.

So we have been assisting with respite care, trying to help him maintain his dignity as he becomes helpless, and his confusion as to both why he is still alive and what will become of him when he dies. Will there be a place for him in heaven? Is there a heaven? These things worry him. He has never been a religious person, although he was a church choir boy many years back. He worries about his wife and what will become of her after he passes on.

We all worry about each other, how each is going to cope with the end. I wonder how the women of the family cope now, they look after him around 18 hours a day, partly because they want to and partly because there are not many people who understand how to look after someone with a hole in their neck, who can’t talk. If he had a shower and water got into his stoma, he would drown. If his neck valve leaks (and this happens from time to time) when he eats a few spoonfuls of his porridge, the food can leak into his lungs.

Anyway, things aren’t normal right now and no one can tell him what is next tomorrow, let alone for eternity. Two months ago he was told maximum 2 weeks. Two weeks ago we were told “a few days”.  It took us a while to understand what he meant every time he woke up and asked “What’s going on?” We thought he meant Who’s here? or Is someone going to take me to the toilet? But eventually we figured out that he is asking, “Why am I still alive?”

So it seemed appropriate as I wait for my finger nails to toughen up again (for guitar) after washing the bathroom and shower, so I can do my latest Berklee Music assignment and then head back to the rest home after a work out at the gym (down to one a week because I go to the rest home straight from work) that today’s blog be about something more basic than singularity and the latest problems with iPhone 4. Once you break it down, we are just an essence in a body that peaks somewhere between late teens and mid twenties and then starts to die.

Sometimes all that matters is the people that are close to you and can give you comfort, and you them. When you break it down, we are beings in flesh and blood in a temporary home.

How far away is Peak Oil and what is it?


Lately there has been renewed interest in Peak Oil and while we are talking about Emissions Trading and allowing larger trucks on New Zealand Roads, the fact is that oil is running out.

What is peak oil? Wikipedia has an extended description, but in simple terms it is when the amount of oil being extracted is at the highest rate and from then on, the amount of oil becomes terminal. In other words, the amount of oil being extracted from the earth will be less than is being consumed, while demand, along with population, increases.

The Space Collaborative paints a scary picture of what the near future could look like without oil. Of course oil doesn’t just drive our cars, our ships, our planes, but it also helps to generate electricity.

Now of course for New Zealand it’s not a big deal because we have geothermal power and arrangements with countries like Japan to access oil, when it starts running out. Major gas guzzlers like the USA will gladly give us a share of their emergency stocks because we’re nice people.  We shouldn’t forget that we have more vehicles in New Zealand than we have licensed drivers.  Of course the price will sky rocket and you will need to be very wealthy to be able to run your car. Just as well we have natural gas.

It was interesting to read that Australia voted in November, not to put together a plan for peak oil, so we probably won’t find any help there.  New Zealand has been working on plans for a number of years, because in 2003 we were dependant on oil for 48% of our energy production. This means that brown outs as predicted in the diagram above, within the next 20 years could become a reality. Yet besides emissions trading, the Kyoto Protocol, which as I have blogged about before will require that instead of spending money to protect our own infrastructure will have us sending money to other countries who have lots of trees.

I don’t think we’re talking about science fiction here, where it will be a problem for future generations, long after we have turned to dust. I think this will be a problem that anyone reading this blog will face. So what are you going to do when you can’t get petrol or diesel for your car and there isn’t enough oil to generate electricity or even make candles?

It bears thinking about doesn’t it?

On terrorists and airport security


I was listening to News Talk ZB talkback radio as I got out of the shower this morning. Those who weren’t complaining about ice cream’s for sale at Cathedral Cove (you would think there were more important things on people’s minds), were talking about the latest security measures as a consequence of the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit,

Al-Qaeda have since claimed responsibility for this attempt.

One guy said that they should convict and hang the terrorists within a week of catching them. Didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me, after all the guy was trying to kill himself wasn’t he? Killing this person would only complete part of his goal and help to make him a martyr and this give him access to his 72 virgins or houri.

I don’t really want to dwell on those self-claimed ‘representitives’ of Islam, who are intent on bringing down the US, during a time of Christian celebration. I don’t for a moment believe that they are representative of Muslim people.

What this reminded me of, was a flight I made from Munich to San Francisco earlier this year, which I blogged about previously. There were many Muslim people on the plane, some of whom seemed to have a real disdain towards the European people on the plane. One man got up and started distributing copies of the Koran to fellow Muslim passengers. This was during the night on a long flight and I had just finished watching the movie Traitor on my laptop and the whole atmosphere was very creepy.

The reason I raise this is that renewed terrorist activity has caused major delays at airports around the world, where security levels has been lifted and are causing major inconvenience for passengers travelling to the US. Security measures are easing again, according to the NY Times, which is great, but the effect of all this could cause racial tensions to rise. This has the potential to play right into the hands of terrorist organisations. Their goal has to be causing terror, not necessarily by killing people.

A side effect of this will be a backlash against Muslim people in general. Because aspects of their faith, such as their clothing and burqa in particular are considered threatening to westerners and some see them as being demeaning of women’s rights, particularly as they perceive that many women in the Middle East do not have the same rights and freedoms as they would in the western world. Interestingly some Muslim women who live in the west also want the burqa banned in those countries.

It is great to know that their are organisations like Muslims Against Terrorism, but it would be great if there were more opportunities for people to understand a bit more about the people themselves, especially those who move to the west. It doesn’t help when people immigrate to other countries but want to take their customs and practices with them, such as the wearing of burqa and niqab.

In western countries, we like to see people’s faces as a measure of their honesty and people who cover their faces are often interpreted as people with something to hide. Many people came to countries such as New Zealand to get away from persecution or discrimination about their beliefs. People like to feel that others in their community are like them. New Zealand is big on human rights and political correctness and as the first country in the world to give women the vote, women’s rights are considered inviolate.

People who are different threaten the lifestyle of people in this society, just as westerners look out of place in other countries.

I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is that differences can be both threatening and interesting. Historically wars were about religious beliefs and about the haves and the have-nots. Combine those two, such as when the oil rich nations deplete their resources, or when poor countries need to rally their people into a nationalistic fervour to keep them from thinking to much about wanting to leave their countries to go somewhere where they perceive a better lifestyle and you have a tinder box in the making.

I consider myself a very easy going person. I was born in Holland, came to NZ, went back to school in Holland and made my home in NZ. I love world cultures, languages, food and the mix of ethnicities that make up our country. Yet, hopping on a long night flight full of people in traditional Muslim dress, with a man handing out copies of the Koran to strangers on the flight, speaking a foreign language, while studiously ignoring the ‘infidels’ made me feel very uncomfortable.

Add to that a continued threat of terrorism and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of violent situations on international aircraft, based on a perceived threat, which may be caused by as simple a situation as I found myself in. Given that non Muslim people are not highly motivated to make dialogue with Muslim people in their community, I think the Muslim people need to open doors in their community. A classic example was the goodwill generated when the Aisha Mosque in Wallsall opened their doors to the local community. Comments from local non Muslim people were very favourable.

I hope more Muslim communities will not take the lead and open their doors and their arms in fellowship and help to break down the barriers. But I also believe that if they want to live in the West, they should also liberalise some of their practices, particularly when out in public. This doesn’t mean turning their backs on their culture and history, just making an effort to not appear so different in public. Islam Open Days are another good way for people to learn more about beliefs and lifestyles and perhaps reduce some of the fears, but of course most of the people who go to them already have an affinity towards them. The challenge is to bring in the rest.

This is of course just my opnion and I welcome you to comment and share yours.

New Zealand Banks told not to reduce fixed mortgage break fees, I say think again


On Page 5 of this morning’s New Zealand Herald I read a story with the headline Stick to guns on fee, banks told. Now I’m the first to stand up and say I don’t understand the banking economy as well as the bankers and the politicians, the educators and maybe even Liam Dann, who says we are all behaving like whingers. No I have bumped into Liam many times over the years and the experiences have all been good, but in my mind something isn’t gelling for me. Maybe he or some others can explain where my thinking is going wrong.

First, we are in a global economic crisis and times are tough all over. I totally agree with Liam’s assertion that when I signed for a fixed rate, I signed a contract which is a legal document saying that I would pay the rate for the period on the contract and it would cost me to break it. The banks are saying that they can’t afford to subsidise the cost, but they quickly gobbled up the guarantees provided by the government to help move the economy.

Now I said at the start, that I don’t understand exactly how the banks work. I know that when I borrowed my $165,000 the National Bank didn’t rush out and borrow that sum, they would have signed contracts for millions at really good rates and my loan would have been part of a bundle which allowed them to hedge for a profit. Now I understand that the Official Cash Rate is a major influencer in mortgage and deposit rates, but a large part of the borrowing by the banks is in other countries where the rates are much lower than ours.

As to becoming whingers, I’d like to ask Liam if he thought (irrespective of the contract that was signed) we were also whingers when we saw the gap increasing between lowering oil prices and the retail price of petrol. It was public pressure that almost overnight reduced the retail price of petrol, people whinging that they thought the profits weren’t fair.

When I took out a new fixed loan of $165,000 I based my decision on the advice of bank staff, even though they were careful to say that I shouldn’t take their information as an official position by the bank, the decision had to be totally mine. But the thing is they did give me advice, and I do accept that no one saw the crash coming. On the other hand the banks also said after the problems in 1987 that they would tighten up their lending criteria, which they have obviously loosened as time went on.

So here’s the thing. While we were all struggling with how to afford our petrol, New York Times International Tribune told us that Shell Oil increase their profit by 33%! They said their profit rose to US$11.56 BILLION! Around the same time The Guardian reported that BP Oil increased their profit to 6.7 billion POUNDS. Liam did you whinge about the oil price?

Businesses have clout. In my world of business, contracts get broken when companies have the power to break them. They sign legal contracts all the time, but if they decide that their supplier is making too much profit, the implied threats come out, saying that they have a choice and even though they have a contract, often it is only as good as the money that a business wants to throw at it to defend it. This is something I do know about it. When you try to defend your contract, you use meet and discuss the situation explaining both parties points of view and try to find a common ground because you need that business relationship. This is called negotiation in my book, although some people might call it whinging.

Now I’m all for businesses making profit, it is essential for their survival and I want my bank to survive, but I want them to be fair too. The NZ Herald themselves reported that while ANZ – NATIONAL took a huge drop in profit, they still made almost $1 billion after tax. That means after all expenses were paid. The NZ Herald also reported TODAY that BNZ’s profit is up 15% on last year, so forgive me if I don’t stop and give them a minute’s silence in respect of their tough times.

So I’m trying to figure out why Liam has this perspective. Here are some things I have heard about or personally experienced about contracts in the last several years: before they

  • A company agrees to buy products manufactured in New Zealand at an agreed fee for a contracted period of time and a contracted price and volume. The buyer then discovers they can buy equivalent product from a Chinese manufacturer and despite the contract and the money the Kiwi manufacturer has invested in staff and plant, breaks the contract and says I can’t continue this deal because the prices were too dear. Never mind that they were already making an extremely healthy retail profit prior to breaking the contrct.
  • An overseas company buys a NZ company complete with its staff and operations and agrees to maintain all the contracts. They then go through the payroll on a spreadsheet and decree that all staff earning more than $X will be made redundant, but can reapply for new positions where the specification might be modified by 5% at a 3rd of what they used to do, irresepctive of their contribution. The good news for me is that they kept the people who weren’t contributing and areas where they made staff redundant and replaced them with people who were prepared to work for way less, reduced profit and revenue by in one case almost 80%. I think that strategy was illegal, but who wants to burn bridges or be seen as a trouble maker or a whinger.
  • I’m sure if you are reading this you know of similar situations where businesses break contracts with other businesses all the time. They get away with it because one business has more power than the other and the losing party either can’t afford the cost or the consequences of fighting for what is right. If you know of cases like this, or indeed if you think I am wrong, please comment on this blog. As long as it isn’t spam or blatant advertising, I will publish your comment.

So here’s the thing. Banks used to be community organisations. You used to be able to walk into the bank and talk to the Bank Manager. They would know you buy name. They would give you advice and show an interest in you. They introduced technology that people said would turn them into machines, and in many cases it did, but the machines were of benefit to the consumer and business, such as EFTPOS (which I helped in a tiny way to introduce), ATM’s, Internet Banking and more. These investments saved them and their customers in time and money, but particularly made the banks more profitable by reducing overheads and staff.

When I first wanted to borrow my current fixed loan from my bank, with whom I had banked for almost 25 years, I actually got a better deal through Mike Pero Mortgages than I could from the bank directly. How’s that for 25 years of loyalty? I had to get a broker to get me a reasonable deal from my own bank!

So I’ve had my whinge Liam. It seems it ‘s ok for businesses to break contracts with each other and to fight for them, but it’s whinging if a consumer, a customer for many years of a bank that is making big fat profits out of their dealings with them, and gets a helping hand from the government which in many cases is as a consequence of imprudent lending, which after 1987 they said they wouldn’t do to expect a little help as well, well I’ll accept the title of whinger.

Just as a footnote, my local grocer is going back to India to look after his elderly parents after running his store here for 24 years. For all of that time, he has shown a real personal interest in every customer, he knows most of them by name. He has helped many of them out if they needed something and didn’t have the cash on them. I won’t go through all the little things he did for local people, but here’s the thing. The supermarket is much cheaper and for many people closer, but they still buy from him and he is selling a highly profitable business. Profitable not because it is a Four Square, or because of his location, but because he cares, because he is a person doing business with people and we as his customers want to do business with him.

If the National Bank doesn’t look after me, perhaps go halves on the contract difference or something that shows that they care about my business, my family and my future business (because I intend not only to be around for a long while, if the creek don’t rise, I won’t be whinging, I will be moving with my feet.

Now I am not wealthy, I live in a very average neighbourhood, far from affluent. Having been made redundant twice and suffered badly as a consequence and having little faith in the government to give me any sort of lifestyle when I retire I am being prudent. I have a small savings account (which has helped my kids from time to time with studies, with medical costs, holidays and other interests), I have a modest term deposit, suffient to cover 2-3 months of income should I be so unfortunate as to be made redundant again as is happening to many people right now. I have a mortgage on my home and a mortgage on my rental property which breaks even without paying a cent off the capital (and of course in recent times means that it is worth less than the loan (but this is for the long haul and it will come right.

Sorry, if I’m rambling, but this post is personal. If the National Bank doesn’t come to the party, I will go back to Mike Pero Mortgages who have looked after me so well in past. I will ask them to find me a new bank that will take over my term deposit, my checking accounts, my 2 mortgages, my Internet Banking, my EFTPOS account, my credit cards and will tell everyone who will listen. Liam, mate, I’m not being a whinger in my book, I believe that people do business with people. We have a choice and I will be looking very closely to see if one of the banks realises that a short term sacrifice will amply pay great dividends in the long run. I suspect that the bank that does this and continues to recognise that their profit comes from their customers will grow and thrive while the others wonder what happened.

Liam, this is starting to sound like I am having a go at you. Frankly I was annoyed to read your column in the Herald today. Factually you are on solid ground, a contract is a legal and binding document. But consumers do have power and if they don’t use it, the corporates or anyone that can will walk right over them. Over recent years Kiwis became so PC (politically correct) that they let everyone walk over them. They thought  people like Americans and Australians were rude if they complained about a dirty coffee cup in a cafe. The contract was for coffee, there was never discussion over the cleanliness of the cup.That made them whingers. Now more and more people are realising that it not just about the contract, it is about standing up for what is fair, ethical, moral and just. The laws of economics are changing and people have a choice.

If anyone is still reading this soap box and agree or don’t with me, please leave a comment and tell me what you think. I would also appreciate you telling other people about this blog if you think it is worthy. Let’s remind the banks and everyone else that those who recognise and respect their customers will in future grow and thrive, those that don’t might be sitting at home reading reading the situations vacant and wondering what happened and thinking how unfair life is.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Cultural Differences and Global Peace


I consider myself to be really easy going and in New Zealand we live in a multicultural country which most of the time works really well. I have grown up with friends and family from a variety of races and backgrounds from all over the world.  Usually if I walk down the road I nod and say hello to people coming the other way and in NZ pretty much everyone returns the greeting without further thought.

Earlier this week I was in The Netherlands and there was a Muslim Cleric visiting Amsterdam who was quoted in the news as saying that no Muslims should be friends with any people in The Netherlands who were not also of the Muslim pursasion. I couldn’t understand if people want to feel that way, why they leave their homelands and go to other countries where the majority of people do not share their faith. I believe that all people are equal, but I also feel that all people deserve equal respect.

In New Zealand we generally celebrate other cultures and respect their religious beliefs. I have enjoyed occassions such as Diwali and Chinese New Year and take the opportunity to enjoy their cultural displays, their food, buy CD’s of their music and generally think viva la difference. It seems though that in some countries relations are different to what I have expected and changes that are happening are not imho for the good.

When my late grandmother was still alive, I used to visit her in her home in Oosterpark where she, (Elisabeth Augustin) as a respected and famous authoress was the curator of  and lived in the Witsen House (now also with graffiti in a foreign language), a museum which was once the home of Willem Witsen, a famous Dutch artist and member of the Tachitigers, a group of artists, poets and authors my grandmother worked hard to have recognised for their influence in the history of Amsterdam’s culture.  The last time I saw her, she was 98 and lived off liquid food and she asked me to get her some from a local chemist store. Her instructions were a little vague so I tried to ask a few local people for instructions. I couldn’t find anyone that spoke Dutch or English that could give me any assistance. Anyway……..

On Wednesday I flew from Munich to San Francisco (where with incongruity everyone was celebrating a new highlight in the history of racial equality) with Lufthansa and there were a large number of Muslims on the plane. The women were mostly covered from head to foot and with one exception, ignored everyone including myself with a determination. The German people on the plane were friendly (probably thinking I was also German given that I was flying from Germany and with my mother having been born in Germany, don’t look dissimilar to them).

As I watched the movie Traitor (I have a habit of reading books or watching movies that seem to associate with my situation) I felt very uncomfortable. The guy seated in front of me was reading a heavy duty edition of the Koran and was passing smaller paperback copies to other passengers. They didn’t seem to know each other, although I could be over dramatizing the situation, and it seemed odd to me that these guys walked around the aircraft handing out these books to other passengers. A number of people were walking around the plane talking to each other, looking up and down the plane and, while it was possibly simply people acknowledging others of the same belief, it was the way they studiously avoided anyone who looked caucasion, throughout the whole 12+ hour flight.

I guess it probably comes down to what you are used to, but my experience is that whether you share beliefs or not, you treat everyone with respect unless they do something that causes you to feel otherwise. Like many people I am concerned about peace in the Middle East and what the future will bring. I believe that the same conflicts that occur because of oil will soon begin over drinkable water and given that we don’t always need petrol or other oil based fuels, we can’t survive without water.

It seems that there are people and (as has been the case for thousands of years) who feel that they have more rights than others and will do what they can to take land or resources from those they perceive as having less rights than themselves. I believe as an idealist in world peace and when I am in New Zealand I feel as though it is possible, but when I have experiences like the one I had on the plane earlier this week, I wonder if it will ever be possible. I have always been and hopefully will always be an idealist, but am feeling a little more concerned. It reinforces the reasons why I chose to live and raise a family in New Zealand.

Through distance we in New Zealand are largely isolated from the rest of the world and the conflicts that abound. I’m not sure of that will remain the case when the water refugees start to come here, but hopefully we will be able to maintain our friendliness and acceptance of people of all colors, creeds and beliefs. But to some degree for that peace to exist, the new immigrants also have to assimilate to some degree. Of course they should continue their beliefs, maintain their language and teach their children their cultures, but they should also learn our language and as we are, be tolerant of others who may not share their beliefs.

People who want to set up their own settlements, and show disdain to our environment and feel that they have more rights than others, should seriously consider staying in their own countries and continue their intolerence of people from other parts of the world. If they can live in mutual respect, then they will be made welcome.

OK, now I will get off my soap boax, but I have to say I am pleased to be home:)

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)