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Electricity Generators deliver “excess dividends” at a cost to people, planet, and the economy

A new report co-authored by FIRST Union, NZCTU, and 350 Aotearoa argues that since the partial-privatisation of our electricity companies, the four big generator-retailers (“the gentailers”) have delivered billions in excess dividends to shareholders. Excess dividends are payments to shareholders in excess of the profits earned by the gentailers.

“From 2014 to 2021 these firms have collectively paid out $3.7 billion more in dividends to their shareholders than they have earned in profits – an average excess dividend of $459 million a year,” said FIRST Union Researcher and Policy Analyst Edward Miller.

“Excess dividend distribution has starved our electricity network of the investment needed to build new generating capacity, hiking prices on households in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and keeping coal and gas-powered generating assets on life support”, said Miller.

“In December 2020 the NZ Government declared a climate emergency, but we are yet to see the kind of urgent action required to match the scale of the threat”, said Miller.

“Private ownership of the electricity industry has lost us almost a decade of possible progress in the fight for a just transition to a low-emissions economy”. 

Miller said the era of excess dividends must now end.

“As the largest gentailer shareholder, we’re calling on Government to propose resolutions at shareholder meetings that will channel profits into building new renewable generating capacity, and using any dividends to buy back the gentailer shares”, said Miller.

CTU Economist Craig Renney said “The government has recently acted on the banking sector, and on petrol companies to ensure that they are delivering better outcomes for New Zealanders. This report demonstrates that there is a pressing need to do this for the electricity sector as well.

New Zealand now generates more electricity through coal and gas than we did in 2018. Prices for customers are rising, but new renewable electricity generation that might tackle rising bills and our climate commitments has been missing in action”.

“If the Government wants to honour its commitment to a just transition, it needs to continue to be proactive in holding companies to account.”

The report also calls on the Government to commit the equivalent of its excess dividend into financing new community and household generation ($1.35 billion), and to levy a windfall tax on the gentailers for their remaining excess dividend ($2.36 billion).

350 Aotearoa Executive Director Alva Feldmeier said the Government had a crucial role to play in establishing a solution.

“We can’t expect the market to fix itself. The gentailers feel more accountable to their shareholders than to their consumers which is delivering neither fast emission reductions nor addressing the huge levels of power poverty in Aotearoa”.

Miller said “A majority of people opposed partial-privatisation in the 2013 asset sales referendum; ignoring those voices has come at great cost. It’s time for an electricity system that serves people and planet, not shareholders.”

For further information contact:

021 770 256

Edward Miller             

FIRST Union Researcher and Policy Analyst

022 065 3036

Craig Renney

NZCTU Economist and Director of Policy

022 437 8715

Alva Feldmeier

350 Aotearoa Executive Director