Why not burn coal?
- To avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change we need to keep global temperature rise below 2oC (compared to pre¬industrial levels). To do this, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and from there go down to zero.
- Carbon dioxide is by far the largest contributor to global greenhouse gases.
- Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel (ie for the same amount of energy, it will release more carbon dioxide than oil, and nearly twice as much as gas).*
- Coal is the single biggest source of climate changing CO2 pollution, and the biggest risk to the future: of the fossil fuels left in the ground and available to burn, 79% of the global warming potential is from coal.
- Apart from climate change, coal also causes irreparable damage to surface waters, agricultural land and to people’s health.
- Beside CO2, burning coal releases millions of tons of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air, which create acid rain and smog.
* Except where fracking creates large escapes of methane from gas wells and pipelines which may significantly increase its greenhouse contribution.
Coal Production in New Zealand
- New Zealand produces coking coal, a high quality coal from the West Coast which is mainly exported for steel making; and sub¬bituminous coal (thermal coal) burned in boilers for heat. This is found mainly in the Waikato and Southland and used for electricity generation at Huntly; by Fonterra to dry milk powder; and by many small users such as industries and hospitals.
- There is one operating lignite mine in Southland: a low quality dirty fuel with high water content used mainly by Fonterra’s milk drying plant at Edendale.
- The biggest coal miner has always been the state¬owned Solid Energy. However it is now in receivership and its assets are for sale. The biggest current producer of thermal coal is Bathurst Resources owned by overseas shareholders.
Coal use in New Zealand
- Coal produces less than 10% of New Zealand’s primary energy.
- The largest user is Bluescope NZ Steel at Glenbrook. The second is Fonterra. In a dry year when hydro power is down the Huntly power station (owned by Genesis) can be second biggest but it is being phased out.
- Coal is a twilight industry employing fewer New Zealanders every year. Over a thousand coal workers have been made redundant since 2012.
- From 2011 to 2015 international coal prices dropped by two¬-thirds, led by a lowering in China’s demand and the growth of renewables. Prices are not projected to recover to what they were.
- Around the world mines have closed and gone broke.
- In 2013 the US solar industry employed more people than coal and gas combined. (Greenbiz.com 21/1/14)
- In New Zealand a number of new projects have not gone ahead and the industry’s future looks shaky.