Last week I spent a fascinating day at the Huntly power station meeting workers and researching one of our biggest contributors to climate change. With Genesis next on the asset sale block I wanted to visit their major asset and learn more about what may be our best known power station. It truly is a behemoth with 6 different generating units, chimneys 150m high, hundreds of workers, and miles and miles of steel and pipes. It has a varied fuel source and can run on coal, gas or diesel and as I discovered, potentially wood chips too.
Huntly has played an important role in our electricity grid since it was commissioned in 1982 but now is the time to be discussing its future. It’s larger than any hydro dam, generating about 1400 MW, but it’s expensive to run and has a phenomenal appetite for coal. Huntly alone is responsible for around half of our greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, which since 1990 have increased 463%! Huntly is a major reason why we now have a smaller percentage of renewables than we did in 1980 or 1990.
Despite a new 25 year consent I believe Huntly’s days are numbered. It’s a symbol of the ‘think big’ centralised fossil fuel-dominated electricity system that served us reasonably well for its time, but like the faded and peeling paint inside the station, it is an old-fashioned reminder times have changed. New Zealand’s future is to think smaller, smarter and more efficiently in terms of energy and actively plan for 100% renewables in wet years. New Zealand is blessed with a wealth of clean energy options from greater geothermal baseload, hydro storage linked with wind, small scale distributed generation from solar to demand side reductions. We don’t have to burn fossil fuels for electricity anymore and moving towards 100% clean electricity makes good economic, branding, and climate sense. 100% renewable electricity is possible, affordable, and desirable…we just need to get on with it. Without a price on carbon or any Government leadership pundits seem to agree if the Tiwai aluminium smelter closes, Huntly will be one of the first cabs off the rank for closure.
It is a large-scale and high-visibility symbol of New Zealand’s energy history, and also a public prompt that we can look to the future and embrace clean energy and build sustainable jobs in this thriving trillion-dollar sector.
Do you think Huntly has a future?