The pressure is mounting for New Zealand’s last coal fired power-plant, Huntly, to close its two remaining coal units in the wake of news that the world’s largest private sector coal company has just filed for bankruptcy.
US company Peabody Energy today announced it had voluntarily filed for bankruptcy amid depressed coal prices and plummeting use worldwide. Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner, Jeff Harrison, says the news is a global signal that coal is no longer a viable source of energy, and demand is shrinking because it’s now significantly more expensive than wind and geothermal. “Here in New Zealand, the last coal units at Huntly must close. Coal is an industry that’s been on the brink of death for years. It’s completely dirty, dangerous and financially defunct,” he says. “But instead of having our best interests at heart, our electricity companies are holding back-door meetings in an effort to keep burning coal, even though cheaper sources of energy like wind exist.”
In August last year, Huntly’s owner, Genesis Energy, announced it would be closing the coal capabilities of the power plant by the end of 2018, saying New Zealand didn’t need it and it was too expensive to run.
The Electricity Authority agreed, saying the 2018 closure of Huntly’s coal wouldn’t result in a shortage of power, dry year or not.
Harrison says Huntly’s coal could easily be replaced by a variety of smaller dispersed power sources like wind and solar.
“It’s obviously cleaner, it’s cheaper for us, and it creates far more jobs than coal ever could. We live in 2016, and we live in New Zealand. Coal’s gotta go.”
But three months ago it was revealed that several of New Zealand’s electricity providers, including Meridian Energy, had been meeting with Genesis Energy to find a way to keep the coal units running.
Harrison thinks the “electricity fat cats” are ganging together to keep coal alive because it’s easier for them to stick to the status quo and pass the higher costs onto consumers, rather than invest money in new power sources like wind farms, which in the long run would be cheaper for New Zealanders.
“I don’t believe those electricity companies have our best interests at heart,” he says.
“In New Zealand, coal generates less than 4% of our power yet accounts for 28% of our pollution, and Huntly Power Station is the biggest single source of New Zealand’s emissions.
“So why, especially four months after we went and made a whole bunch of promises in front of the world at the Paris Climate Conference, are we fighting to keep a beast like this alive?”
“It’s shameful that our power companies are supporting dirty coal. They have a duty to us to look for cleaner and cheaper solutions.”
Harrison says if Huntly’s coal burners were to shut, electricity providers including Meridian and Mighty River Power already have consents in place to start building wind farms around the country.
13,500 people have signed a petition asking Genesis to stick to its plan and shut Huntly coal-fired powerstation.