Energy Minister Simon Bridges revealed in Parliament this week he has no idea what majority state-owned power companies are up to, when he wrongly claimed that Genesis Energy would not burn coal at Huntly unless there was a shortage of renewable electricity. Was it ignorance or a smokescreen?
Responding to Genesis Energy’s decision to backtrack on its 2015 plan to phase-out burning coal at Huntly, Bridges said on TV that coal will only be used as back-up power supply, and that, “I think it’s going to be used very, very infrequently.” He must have an odd definition of very, very infrequently because, as I pointed out in Question Time, it was burning coal all day yesterday and at near capacity. It was spewing out pollution at a time when we didn’t need backup supply, the hydro lakes lakes were 94% full and free sunlight was pouring down on Auckland’s roofs.
This is the spin he and the power companies are trying to share: coal is just a back-up insurance policy we need to keep the lights on. This argument is a total smokescreen. The truth is coal is being burnt very regularly at Huntly and produces more than one million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution annually. This isn’t about security of supply, it’s about pollution being profitable under current rules. It’s also about the power companies not wanting to invest in renewable alternatives because taxpayer subsidies to Rio Tinto’s Tiwai Point aluminum smelter have prolonged uncertainty. If the country’s largest electricity customer may not be around in a few years, how can anyone make investment decisions regarding new electricity generation?
Coal is both the most expensive and most polluting way to generate electricity New Zealand. It contributes 20 percent of our total emissions from the electricity sector despite being a small amount of generation. The US, China, and the EU are all moving to shut down coal-fired power plants to combat climate change and it’s pretty odd New Zealand is committing to burn more.
New Zealand has a wealth of cleaner solutions to burning coal at Huntly. We have almost 4000 megawatts of consented renewable generation ready and waiting to be built. A distributed network of smaller, clean generation sources would always be more reliable and secure than dependence on a single giant power station. We can keep the lights on without burning polluting coal.
I’d wager the real reason for the spin and the smokescreen is that the Government is embarrassed that five days after signing the Paris climate agreement, National stood by while the power companies signed up to six more years of “pragmatic” coal-fired electricity in New Zealand.