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Update on electric cars

We've had plenty of feedback on the story we broke earlier in the week relating to Wellington Council's $100,000 spent on an electric car programme that resulted in an expensive staff car park.

First up, despite our own checking over the Easter Break and a service station attendant telling us that the charging station was lucky to be used once a month, two members of the public have contacted us to say that they use it to charge their electric vehicles. In fact one boasted to Radio NZ that the charging station was 'the cheapest 5 hours of parking in town!'.

There is also uncertainty surrounding who paid for the charging station.  Despite the Taxpayers' Union originally being told that ratepayers forked out for the charging station, we have now managed to assertion that Z-Energy (Shell at the time) paid for the charging station.  The obvious question now is what if anything ratepayers did get for the $100,000 spent by Wellington Council on the programme.  We're aware of:


  1. car leasing - the cost per year equivalent to the price of a brand new efficient hybrid
  2. a study into how people felt about the electric vehicles; and 
  3. good media coverage for the Council and the Mayor.
Now that we know that the charging station would probably have been built anyway, the $100,000 spent by the Council hardly seems worth it.

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The most expensive car park in the country?

The Taxpayers’ Union has uncovered what is probably the most expensive staff car park in New Zealand.  Between 2010 and 2012, the Wellington City Council spent $100,000 on a zero-emissions vehicle program, and only thing to show for it is a 'charging station' that no one uses.

Two years ago the Wellington City Council was boosting about the a 'pilot' zero-emissions vehicle program. The program included the installation of a 15-amp socket at what is now Z Energy, on the corner of Customhouse Quay and Whitmore St in Wellington. 

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown welcomed the arrival of the charging post. "It shows that we are gaining momentum," she said.

She was keen to see more electric cars on Wellington streets over time, with charging points scattered around the city. Read more.

But three years and $100,000 later there are no electric cars and no one to use the charging station Wellington City ratepayers forked out for.

Instead of being used to charge electric vehicles - the 'charging station' is being used as a staff car park

A member of the public who contacted our tip-line, claims to walk past the charging station every weekday and only once this year has an electric vehicle been parked there. We've wondered down and checked the site a dozen times within the last month. Every time the 'charging station' has been occupied by a conventional petrol vehicle. 

This photo was taken over Easter.  The car belongs to one of the staff members and is not an electric vehicle.


The green figures were always red

Even worse than a white elephant charging station is the fact that the Council was paying an annual lease for the electric vehicle more than the sticker price of a brand new, fuel efficient, hatchback. Given that the electric vehicle was used so little (it saved only 176 litres of petrol) the money would probably have saved more carbon had it been used to modernise the Council's vehicle fleet.

So why did the Council do it?

The 'evaluation' the Council referred us (prepared by a market research company for EECA) concluded that the economics of the vehicles are not viable but the program nevertheless had value as a 'communications tool'. We suspect that is code for 'good media coverage for the green mayor'. The Council couldn't produce evidence that the money spent caused a take-up of electric vehicles in Wellington. 

Tackling climate change and peak oil are not fixed by Councils wasting ratepayers’ money on pet-projects. It also raises further questions about councils trying to pick winners and subsidising an expensive infrastructure that benefits only a “handful” of people at most?

The report prepared by the market research company Synovate for EECA is available here.  The Council's response to the Taxpayers' Union information request is below.

The $100,000 of ratepayer money was used for green PR, not reducing emissions.

Wellington City Council electronic cars

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Wellington town hall strengthening cost blowout

Yesterday we issued a media release in response to a Dominion Post report stating that earthquake strengthening work on the Wellington Town Hall has been halted due to a $17 million budget blowout. The total cost of the work is now estimated to cost $60 million. We noted that this equals $871 per Wellington household.

Whilst the town hall is a lovely building, at this cost it seems unaffordable, and our understanding from a property expert is that it could be much cheaper to replace it with a new, fit for purpose building using the existing facade and features Wellingtonians treasure. Newstalk ZB covered our release here.

Today the Dominion Post followed up the story, reporting:

Wellington City Council has refused to reveal how much it has already spent on town hall strengthening work, which has been put on hold after a budget blowout of about $17 million.

The Dominion Post revealed yesterday that the cost to strengthen the hall had ballooned from a budgeted $43m to about $60m.

City councillors will have to go back to the debating chamber later this year to decide if it is worth spending that much.

They could look at cheaper alternatives, or at replacing the town hall on the same or a new site.

The council intended to use a base isolation system to bring the strengthened hall up to 140 per cent of the new building standards (NBS).

Engineers have assessed the building as meeting just 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the NBS. Anything under 33 per cent is deemed earthquake-prone.

Work has now stopped, just three months into the three-year programme, as the council considers its options.

Given that ratepayers are paying for the work, we think they should know how much has already been spent on the building, even if work has now been halted due to an overspend. We're requesting the information under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

The Council faces the same problems as many Wellington property owners. In some cases it has declined resource consents to demolish dangerous buildings that have been uneconomic to upgrade. It will be interesting to see what the costs (and solution) are.

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