Better choices than digging holes in the ground

The Government’s “drill it, mine it, frack it” economic plan for New Zealand is a lazy gamble that belies a lack a vision. The coal-face of this Nineteenth Century approach is Solid Energy’s grandiose plans to convert Southland’s low-grade lignite coal to heat, fertiliser and fuel. The Government would have you believe New Zealand has no other choices, but we do.

A BERL/WWF report out yesterday shows Southland can prosper without the need to exploit dirty lignite. The report outlines there are good new jobs available in an enhanced forestry, engineering, and education sectors – jobs that won’t destabilise our climate nor require on-going taxpayer subsidies for carbon emissions.

There is enough lignite to increase New Zealand’s increasing greenhouse gas emissions by another quarter and perversely could be subsidised hundreds of millions of dollars by the taxpayer through the National Party’s Emissions Trading Scheme. It would be bad for the taxpayer and catastrophic for the climate.

Bill English turned the first sod for this project and it’s clear the National Government is picking the wrong kind of winners in its economic strategy. They are locking investment into old technologies within industries that are in long-term decline.

A better way forward would be to direct this State-owned enterprise to focus on clean energy and set in place the regulatory mechanisms and price signals that speed the transition to a smart green economy.

8 Comments Posted

  1. So, plenty of options even now; All- Power to those with the knowledge and the will to be taking constructive ACTION; and whichever politicians support them. (I LOVE wind-Farms!).

  2. noelene – most of the potential energy sources have already been discovered, just not harnessed. Hydro, wind, geothermal, solar (both photovoltaic and solar thermal) and biomass are well known, and wave and tidal power is in the media. There is also hydro thermal, ocean thermal (in the tropics), salinity gradient, and ocean currents as potential energy sources. Not all of these are available to New Zealand. However New Zealand has a wealth of renewable energy resources and a low population density, so renewable energy should be available at a low enough cost that we don’t need to develop all these options.

    We should be doing more to develop at least some of these options.

    Given our high rainfall in many areas and our large coastline, I like salinity gradient power (such as Pressure Retarded Osmosis) but other resources will probably work out to be cheaper.


  3. Trevor: In the meantime, I take your point.

    In the future, I wouldn’t be surprised at WHAT might be discovered…!

  4. @bjchip,

    The Greens should take your words to heart; they’re continually fighting an ideological war against GMOs – despite the evidence that they may play a role in the search for alternative fuels.

  5. Noelene – we can’t afford to wait for other people to develop solutions that may or may not work, and may or may not work here. We need to progress with what we know will work in New Zealand, such as wind farms and geothermal plants. In parallel, we need to develop other resources to give us diversification – important for intermittent renewables so there are fewer periods where most of the intermittent renewables aren’t generating.

    Solar power in New Zealand – the land of the long white cloud, and the roaring forties – is only likely to play a small role in our future.


  6. The “conservative” New Zealander resents being told that what he has worked all his life doing has become a “bad” thing, and lacks the flexibility to encompass any new thing.

    To be fair, that is true of most people past the age of 40. It is just.too.hard.

    So for many of the people involved it is coal or the unemployment line, and understanding the science behind the problem is unlikely enough to not be an option.

    To make it workable the government would have to build or encourage an equivalent industry in the same region… and ensure that the necessary retraining occurred. The mine should stay shuttered, the coal should stay in the ground. Lignite! What can they be thinking.

    This government can’t even think in such terms. I think their brains would explode if the idea ever found its way in.


  7. Solid Energy should be looking at what can be done with biomass rather than lignite. The two aren’t very different, except for the source.


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