Contrary to the belief of the National Party, the Government has no plans for a ban on coal. Part of this is pure necessity, ensuring that during dry seasons in the hydro-electric catchments where rains have failed to keep the hydroelectric storage lakes of the lower South Island and the Waikato power scheme topped up, the Huntly power station can still be started. It runs on coal and gas.
Part of the absence of a ban also rests on an acknowledgement that there is still a demand for New Zealand coal overseas, especially in China and Japan, with coal mining making up a significant part of the West Coast economy. The railway line from Ngakawau, north of Westport down to where it meets the Trans Alpine line is largely paid for by coal coming out of mines in this area.
There are other things that can be done first before any ban include:
- No longer mining lignite or sub-bituminous coal which has a higher sulphur conent and releases
- Focus on bituminous and anthracite coal which burn better
Power stations at Whiranaki in Hawkes Bay and Stratford in Taranaki are diesel fuel and natural gas based operations, respectively, that have installed capacity of 360 megawatts. Like Huntly, these are normally held in reserve unless there is a dearth of hydroelectric power available.
Contrary further to the National Party’s claims of fossil fuels being banned in the near future, Minister of Energy Megan Woods has stated that she can see oil and gas still being used in 50 years time. The reason for this is simple. National has ignored the finer print of the message and claimed that oil and gas will stop quickly, whereas the ban only exists on new exploration.
The claims made by New Zealand Gas have been completely dismantled by economic commentator Rod Oram. Among some of the rebuttals were:
- Having the right geology – whilst true of Taranaki, it cannot be so easily said for the Canterbury Bight
- The economics would suit New Zealand – actually the U.S. is becoming a major exporter, and the cost of selling N.Z. product at a price beneficial to both customers and shareholders alike is not likely to suitable
- The fisheries will be okay – New Zealand has superb fisheries that are the envy of many nations, which is one of our biggest comparative advantages
- The environment can survive an oil spill – The moves to protect the Southern Ocean fisheries aside, National slacked off in a big way on affording our marine environment the protection it badly needs and did not seem to think our capacity for dealing with an oil spill needed overhauling
- No need for alternative sources – biomass is slowly becoming more popular; substantial research is going into other alternative energy sources, meaning the decline of gas is in some respects natural
Whilst it is true there is still an immediate future for fossil fuels, the long term outlook strongly suggests something approaching a gradual yet nearing terminal decline. New Zealand and the world are moving on, and at some point, N.Z. Gas will have to accept this.