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NZ’s coal imports highest in 14 years, but Energy Minister berates ACT's 'utterly false' suggestion why

Energy Minister Megan Woods has hit back at claims from ACT that New Zealand’s highest annual coal import figure in 14 years is linked to the ban on future coal and gas exploration.

Source: 1 NEWS

New Zealand imported just shy of 1.1 million tonnes of coal in 2020, the most since 1.24 million tonnes were imported in 2006, data from MBIE shows.

Coal imports last year were also more than the amounts brought into the country in 2018 and 2018 combined.

ACT climate change spokesperson Simon Court says the record coal imports was evidence the Government’s “marketing-led environmentalism has been mugged by scientific reality”, adding that the “environmental case for allowing natural gas exploration is now overwhelming”.

“Our trading partners have reduced emissions by using natural gas and turning off old coal-fired power stations and industrial heating,” he said.

“No one is interested in finding new gas reserves here due to the Government’s ban on new exploration.”

Energy Minister Megan Woods refuted Court’s claims, saying that the Government was stockpiling coal as a result of the drier La Niña weather pattern New Zealand is currently experiencing.

“It’s utterly false to try and suggest that the current stockpiling of coal by electricity companies to manage the country’s dry year storage problem and production decline of an existing gas field, has anything to do with the ban on future exploration of oil and gas,” she said.

“This idea was debunked at the election campaign when the National Party suggested it, and it’s still false. It is a market response to current conditions.”

Woods said there are two factors leading to an increased amount of coal being used by electricity generators, and coal is being used so that water and the use of hydro electricity can be saved for winter when demand increases.

“Declining gas production at the Pohokura gas field and the current La Niña weather pattern that creates warm, dry conditions which have an impact on hydro lake inflows. These factors have led to a small decrease in the share of electricity generated from renewable sources, with the electricity market responding by utilising thermal generation (including coal) to help conserve water in hydro lakes and manage supply security ahead of winter.

“As we head into winter, our thermal power generators are well aware of the need to ensure we have enough thermal fuel available to support our electricity needs. Utilising thermal generation helps to ensure that we can conserve the water in the hydro lakes. This means that ensuring that we can store as much gas as we can at the Ahuroa gas storage facility, and relying on alternative thermal fuels – such as coal.”

Woods said the NZ Battery project had been set up to tackle NZ’s ‘dry year’ energy storage issue as the Government seeks “to decarbonise our energy system in a future with a 100 per cent renewable electricity grid”.

“Pumped hydro would be transformative for securing sustainable, cheaper, low-emissions electricity for the long term and we would no longer be reliant on fossil fuels for meeting our electricity demand. It would also create more capacity for meeting future electricity demand as we electrify transport and industrial process heat,” she said.

“The NZ Battery Project is assessing the viability of pumped hydro as part of its primary objective and consider this solution against viable alternative technologies as they are identified through the process.”

This morning in a statement, Court referenced the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s finding that the “ban on offshore gas exploration will impose massive costs on the economy but is unlikely to reduce domestic emissions”.

“There is no environmental benefit to banning gas exploration if Indonesian coal will be imported instead,” he said.

“The Prime Minister needs to show that her ‘nuclear-free moment’ wasn’t just a line in a speech by reversing the ban on exploration for natural gas so New Zealand can begin to make meaningful long-term reductions in our emissions.”