Business Scoop

The Current Need For Coal

Press Release – Primary Land Users Group

There are many people in New Zealand proposing a move to a much greener economy and they all seem to believe that a move to alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar electricity are the future for our country with the resultant moves away …

There are many people in New Zealand proposing a move to a much greener economy and they all seem to believe that a move to alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar electricity are the future for our country with the resultant moves away from the use of fossil fuels.

The current government has put a ban on any further exploration for oil or gas and is offering inducements to convince people to convert to the use of electricity instead of using fossil fuelled vehicles and industrial processes.

The concept of this green technology is one that is promoted by many politicians across all of the political parties but like a lot of political concepts that are not well thought out they can often come with some perverse outcomes.

A shift to renewable energy such as solar & wind electricity generation requires a lot of infrastructure for the energy produced when compared to the high-intensity sources of electricity generation such as fossil fuels or nuclear generation.

Even though the fuel itself (solar or wind energy) is free the infrastructure required to allow the use of this free fuel to carry out the generation of electricity will require a huge increase in the winning of the materials to build that infrastructure.

For facilities that produce the same generation capacity (as fossil fuels or nuclear generation) from solar and wind generation, experts have predicted that they will require the following:

  • up to 15 times more concrete
  • 90 times more aluminium &
  • 50 times more iron copper and glass

It has also been predicted that the world will be increasing production from the current levels of approximately 500 terawatt-hours up to 25,000 terawatt-hours of electricity from solar and wind generation by the year 2050.

The building of the infrastructure to produce this level of electrical generation just from solar and wind is predicted to require the following amount of materials based on a world-wide increase in the use of renewable energy for electricity generation:

  • 3,200million tonnes of steel
  • 310million tonnes of aluminium
  • 40million tonnes of copper
  • 800million tonnes of glass
  • 20billion tonnes of concrete; &
  • An unknown amount of precious metals (gold, silver and platinum) and rare earth elements.

Given the current New Zealand government’s moves away from the use of fossil fuels for generation of electricity, the ban on any further oil or gas exploration and the ban on any further hydro-electric generation we will need to develop much more capacity for renewable fuelled generation from solar and wind power.

With the benefit of hindsight and looking back a couple of years to the situation where New Zealand was almost totally reliant on fossil fuelled generation, caused by the lack of hydro generation capacity due to drought conditions, and taking into account current global warming effects we are going to need to develop a significant increase in renewable generation if we are going to keep the lights on in the future.

Just recently we came very close to having rolling power cuts as a regular thing due to the lack of supply from hydro generation or wind generation. There was one incident in August where power cuts were instigated due to a lack of availability of electricity supply.

While we have stopped mining coal in New Zealand for power generation we haven’t actually stopped burning coal for generation. We have just exported the detrimental environmental effects of mining by sourcing coal imported from Indonesia.

Not only have we sent the problems off shore by importing supply our government has in effect been hiding the fact that although they have made a decision to stop mining coal in NZ for power generation we are still carrying on burning coal because without doing so the lights would rapidly go out.

We are importing millions of tonnes of dirty coal from Indonesia so that our thermal station at Huntly can continue to supply the power required to keep the lights on.

So we have made a decision to stop mining in NZ but it is well known in the government that we cannot stop the thermal generation and therefore we are having the truth withheld from us.

The truth being that without thermal generation we will have massive ongoing power cuts, every time the water levels drop in our hydro lakes and the wind doesn’t blow.

The truth also is that by importing coal from Indonesia we are actually producing worse effects (greater amounts of greenhouse gas emissions from dirtier coal and effects from shipping and transporting coal by road) on the environment than if we were to mine the coal here in NZ.

So the fact of the matter is that we will still need to use thermal generation for some time to come or face rolling blackouts at times.

Our politicians are shutting down the use of coal fired industrial plants throughout NZ to help save the planet!!! – Yeah Right!

Here’s a small sample of how many coal fired electricity generation plants there are in the world.

The EU has 468 plants building 27 more for a total of 495

Turkey has 56 plants building 93 more total 149

South Africa has 79 building 24 more total 103

India has 589 building 446 more total 1036

Philippines has 19 building 60 more total 79

South Korea has 58 building 26 more total 84

Japan has 90 building 45 more total 135

China has 2363 building 1171 more total 3534

With the government’s drive to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in NZ for heating, industrial use and transport there is a very real possibility that should the government targets be met, we will never be able to keep pace with demand from both an electricity generation and transmission perspective.

This will require more thermal generation not less and under the current system this means even greater amounts of coal being imported. So what are the alternatives?

The first thing that gets mentioned is the excess electricity that will become available when the aluminium smelter at Bluff shuts down. Many say that this will provide a great buffer until sustainable generation is available in sufficient quantities to cover the increased demands.

But there are two main problems with this scenario:

  1. The bluff smelter has yet to shut down.
  2. There is no transmission infrastructure available to direct that supply to the Nth Island where the demand is the greatest.

We need to come to grips with reality. Stopping the use of coal fired industrial processes and banning any further oil and gas exploration is not helping save the planet it is in fact making it worse when you factor in the transportation of alternative fuels.

But here in New Zealand we have another option that will allow us time to develop adequate levels of sustainable generating systems while still producing enough electricity to keep the lights on without the need to import dirty coal from Indonesia.

Instead of filling our landfills with waste we can use that waste to produce power by incineration. Given the latest technology available, the relatively simple engineering needed to transform the Huntly Station to use waste, the availability of area for the processing of the waste, the existing transmission network and the existing rail network into the site, there will be less harm done to the environment from using waste as a fuel than there is from importing and using coal.

According to the Waste Hierarchy, the recovery of energy from waste is the next preferred method after recycling. Disposal to landfill is the least preferred method of waste management, yet it is the most widely used in Third World countries, and is current best practice in New Zealand.

The Auckland region produces approximately one and a half million tonnes of waste per year that mostly goes into landfills.

The government has committed to stopping the use of fossil fuels and converting to electricity use instead and given this focus on the use of electricity to replace the use of fossil fuels the demand for electricity is going to increase exponentially.

New Zealand currently does not have the capacity in sustainable generation of electricity to stop the use of thermal generation outright.

If the hydro lake levels drop significantly due to weather effects and the wind doesn’t blow at that time then we will need to rely on thermal generation or see rolling blackouts as happened in August this year.

We don’t currently have the infrastructure available to rely on sustainable generation at all times and without the use of thermal generation there will be times when the demand for electricity will outstrip supply and then we will be again faced with rolling blackouts.

There is another option that should be explored as soon as possible and that is to use incineration of waste to fuel power generation rather than using imported coal.

By using waste incineration at Huntly Power station we achieve the following benefits;

  1. We reduce the amount of waste going into landfills
  2. We reduce the methane emissions from landfills accordingly
  3. With the new incineration technology available we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions of thermal generation from coal burning.
  4. We can utilise the existing supply infrastructure into Auckland the largest market.
  5. We gain time to develop the sustainable generation capacity from wind and solar without the need for rolling blackouts.

We have the capability to renew the generation system at the Huntly Power station to accommodate thermal generation from incineration of waste; we have availability on the boundary of the Huntly Power station, of rail sidings and we have large areas of government owned land where the infrastructure could be sited to accommodate the sorting of the waste streams into separate recyclable and incineration resources.

There are no reasons not to use waste incineration when compared to the environmental effects from burning imported dirty coal, but until we have the capacity to do so then we should be using coal mined in New Zealand as this would at least remove the environmental costs of transport by sea from Indonesia.

It would also be the honest option instead of trying to hide behind weasel words designed to hide the fact that we are still using coal fired thermal generation to keep the lights on but exporting the detrimental environmental effects.

Let’s stop the lights going out!!!

Andy Loader. Co-Chairman.

Primary land Users Group

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