The revelation that coal burning at Genesis Energy’s Huntly Power Station is the highest in five years is proof we need to fast-track the rollout of solar energy, says Greenpeace.

Genesis Energy has been powering its two Rankine units at Huntly on coal for most of the last part of 2018 and ordered 120,000 tonnes of coal from Indonesia to maintain supplies, driving up electricity prices for New Zealand households.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner, Amanda Larsson, says the revelation New Zealand has been burning record-setting amounts of coal during the sunniest months of the year is “appalling”.

“Summer is exactly the time of the year we’re being flooded with clean energy from the sun. With proper investment in solar, we could have been protecting hundreds of thousands of people from rising energy bills, and alleviating pressure on our environment,” she says.

“We’ve met less than four percent of our solar potential here in New Zealand. It’s time to get building.

“It’s appalling that in the year 2019, companies like Genesis Energy are narrow mindedly relying on fossil fuels and putting profits before people, rather than investing in the clean energy that even our national grid operator Transpower says provides the most affordable future for New Zealanders.”

This latest controversy follows the shutdown at Pohokura – New Zealand’s largest offshore gas platform – last October, which caused a 13-month price spike and wholesale power prices averaging a whopping $290 a megawatt-hour.

Prices are set to go up yet again this February as maintenance work is undertaken on Pohokura, which is run by oil giant OMV.

Larsson says it’s clear fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal can no longer deliver reliable energy for New Zealanders.

“The oil and gas industry is pushing hard to try and convince the Government that we need more gas to keep the lights on, but actually we’re seeing more and more that dirty fuels can be incredibly unreliable and New Zealanders are paying the price in higher energy bills,” she says.

“Rolling out more locally-produced energy from solar panels, wind turbines and battery storage is the key to creating a more resilient and reliable energy system. But, while the rest of the world is embracing clean energy, neither the Government nor our large power companies have a plan to rapidly boost renewable development in New Zealand.”

A report released by international science journal Nature last week revealed no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built anywhere in the world if we are to stay under the 1.5 degree temperature rise recognised as the limits of human safety.

Greenpeace is calling on the Government to solarise half a million New Zealand homes over the next 10 years. The plan would see a Government interest-free loan on panels and a battery deliver solar power with no upfront costs for the homeowner.

If implemented, Larsson says it would contribute 1.5 GW of new clean power – or one-and-a-half times the capacity of Huntly Power Station – and significant grid-stabilising battery storage to New Zealand’s electricity grid over the next decade.