Coal Action Network Aotearoa Newsletter  Feb/Mar 2013

Kia Ora Koutou

Welcome to the Coal Action Network Aotearoa’s first newsletter for 2013!

As you are all very much aware, Solid Energy has gone into freefall.  Not only has CEO Don Elder resigned, but the company is now reporting a $389m debt.
But there’s a lot more going on with coal around the country, not least a new proposal by Fonterra to open a mine in the upper North Island at Mangatawhiri.

What’s in this newsletter? 

1.  Upcoming events
2.  Solid Energy’s lost CEO – and its massive debt
3.  Fonterra’s new coal mine
4.  Denniston ruling imminent
5. The Wise Response Appeal on climate change
6.  Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival
7.  What about our drought? Has it got anything to do with climate change?
8 The world hasn’t warmed?
9  International
– Australia’s “Angry Summer”
– Renewable Energy setting records everywhere
– China’s carbon tax

1. Upcoming events:

There don’t appear to be too many events listed here: if you have any coming up for the next newsletter please let us know at

7 March: Meeting at Mangatawhiri for locals who want to oppose Fonterra’s proposed coal mine there (see story below). Speaker on health effects of coal mining, Jim Salinger on effects of climate change on farming; how to make a submission opposing the new coal mine. Organised by local people with support from Auckland Coal Action.

7 March: Wellington “Keep the Coal in the Hole” group meeting, 6pm, CBD Meeting Room 2, ground floor (near stairs), Wellington Central Library. All welcome.

8 March:  Dunedin launch of a new appeal called Wise Response, an initiative calling for Government to investigate the real threats to our way of life and economy.   1.15pm, Otago Museum Reserve, Dunedin/Hutton Theatre opposite if wet.  Public meeting in the evening at 7.30 pm, Castle One Lecture Theatre, Otago University.

2.  Solid Energy’s massive debt

So much has happened since the last newsletter, including the resignation of CEO Don Elder and the news last week that the company is $389 million in the red.

But it was only when board chair Mark Ford was asked on Radio New Zealand about the lignite projects that we discovered he didn’t see the Mataura lignite projects as a “core activity” for the company.

We have been cheering – it does seem, for now, that lignite is dead.  These 3.1 billion tonnes of coal under fertile Southland farmland that Solid Energy has permits for, we hope, will stay in the hole.  (There’s 6.8 billion tonnes in total).

But the future of the briquetting plant is still unclear. There are questions to be answered.  Will GTL, Solid’s partner in briquetting, take it further?  If so, how?  It has to be commissioned first!

What we do know is that the company lost an awful lot of money betting on a coal price that was far too high, and in hopeless coal projects such as the Mataura lignite project, the Huntly Coal Seam Gas project, Spring Creek and Huntly East.  Together, these projects totalled a whopping $116million of write down, whereas the renewable energy projects racked up just $36million in write down.

The spin has been quite something: from Westport Mayor Tony Kokshorn, to Bill English to Campbell Live, they’ve all blamed Solid’s renewables investments.

Solid Energy’s renewable investments were made under the Labour government that placed a biofuel obligation on all motor fuel sales. This was then replaced by National’s subsidy, which National then cancelled.

The 2008 ETS would have made coal and gas more expensive (as it is supposed to), but the Government watered it down.   There would also have been a better market for wood pellets. The company also made the mistake of going for the export market for the pellets, failing to recognise there was a good market here in New Zealand.

We also know that Solid Energy never gave a business plan to Treasury (who didn’t ask for it).

There’s a lot more to say about Solid Energy, and Rosemary has said it very well over on our blog, posted yesterday.

Indeed, sign up to be alerted whenever we post a new blog (this is especially important for those of you who are not on facebook).  It won’t be like spam, as we don’t post too many of them.

3.  Fonterra’s new coalmine at Mangatawhiri 

“Would you like to taste some of Fonterra’s fine products? Here you are – it comes with coal!”

This was the opening line from milkmaids stationed outside Fonterra’s HQ yesterday, offering various dairy products to passers by – dairy products that come with a lump of coal.

Full download of the action, with photos, here at Auckland Coal Action’s website.

Glencoal, wholly owned by Fonterra, has applied for consents for an open cast mine on farmland at Mangatawhiri on SH2.  Planned to produce 120,000 tonnes a year, it would take over from the Kopako 3 mine that currently supplies the dairy factories at Waitoa, Hautapu and Te Awamutu.

With the Kopako coal running out in 2014, it’s a good time to start the phase out of coal in favour of the locally-available waste wood.

A public meeting will be held at Mangatawhiri tomorrow (Thursday).

See Auckland Coal Action’s site for details on submissions and how to make one. Deadline: 28 March.

4.  Legal update:   Denniston  and the Supreme Court. 

The Environment Court’s ruling on Bathurst’s Denniston mine is expected any day now.  Keep an eye on the blog, facebook pages and network emails.

For those of you in Wellington,  Tuesday and if needed Wednesday (12 and 13 March) will see the Supreme Court hearing appeal against the High Court decision that the law prohibits anybody from arguing climate change under the RMA in consent hearings.  This is the tiny West Coast Environment Network up against the might of Bathurst and (well, perhaps a lesser might today) Solid Energy.  The court is in Lambton Quay up near Parliament and starts at 10 am on Monday.

5.  The Wise Response Appeal on climate change
A new appeal is being launched this week, calling on the NZ Parliament to act on climate change.  Wise Response is supported by 100 celebrated New Zealanders.  It underlines and stresses the urgency of the issue, the need for economic and energy security, and business continuity.

“The issue: The links between global climate change, fossil fuel extraction and combustion, and a stable economy are deeply concerning.  Climate change (including extreme weather ‘bombs’) and other resource constraints threaten our ability to meet our environmental and social obligations for the next generation.

Today, most scientists believe critical “thresholds” are upon us, that the consequences are likely to be disastrous and irreversible if we do not make urgent fundamental changes. So far, successive NZ governments have failed to truly face up to such unprecedented threats to our collective security. We therefore call on the NZ  Parliament to dispassionately assess the risks in five priority areas and from those recommendations, design cross-party policies to avert any threats confirmed.”

If you’re in Dunedin on Friday head down to the launch at 1.15, or go to the public meeting at 7.30 pm at Otago University’s Castle One lecture theatre.

6.  Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival 

A great team gathered in Southland at the end of January to take part in this year’s summer festival.  This time it was hosted by Coal Action Murihiku, so it’s only fitting that they report back – See this link to their latest newsletter.  For those of us not from the region, we were impressed with the strength of local support gathered by CAM since last year’s festival. Here’s our Press Release from the meeting’s open day on the Sunday. And here is Gareth Renowden’s very useful briefing on the latest in climate science.

7.  What about our drought? Has it got anything to do with climate change? 

What we’re seeing now we can expect to be the “new normal” toward the end of this century, scientists say.  But unfortunately the New Zealand media doesn’t appear to be linking the record drought to this issue, except for a piece by climate denier Chris de Freitas in the NZ Herald last week. Climate scientist Jim Salinger commented on the drought last week in The Herald. 

“Climate scientist Jim Salinger said conditions were following the same pattern as four years ago.

“It’s all over the North Island, apart from Horowhenua to Wellington, which is exactly as it was in 2007-08. 
 He said the North Island could expect hot, dry summers like this to become the norm because of climate change.”

8 The world hasn’t warmed? 

Some of you may have been reading the increasing bleating by climate deniers that the world hasn’t warmed in [16,18,23] years.  This is not borne out by the facts, as explained by this article. You may find it useful when being confronted by this so-called “fact”.  Also, just recently posted in US magazine Mother Jones, is a very helpful guide on how to talk with a sceptic.

9  International 

Angry summer: Australia’s hottest summer on record

Australia’s Bureau of meteorology has now confirmed that they have just suffered the hottest summer on record.  This brought a terrible combination of both heatwaves and floods.  The Bureau’s climate scientists Blair Trwein Karl Braganza explained the links with climate change in this great piece on The Conversation. Some excerpts:

 “the most significant thing about all of these extremes is they fit with a well established trend in Australia — it’s getting hotter, and record heat is happening more often.

“Six of Australia’s ten hottest summers on record have come in the last 11 years, meaning that very hot summers have been occurring at about five times the rate you would expect without a warming trend.”


“By the end of the 21st century, the record summer of 2013 will likely sit at the very cooler end of normal.”

The Australian Climate Commission has released its report, “Angry Summer” that sets out the record heat – and rain – in the country.

And while we’re on climate, this story in The Guardian was important in the ongoing battle to reveal the funding behind the climate denial industry. We have our own set of climate deniers here in NZ and they are well-linked to this international network.  Here’s a little map of our lot.

Renewable Energy setting records everywhere 

In January, every single megawatt of new generating capacity added to the US grid was renewable.
Germany set a record in solar installations in 2012.
In Spain, 25% of electricity in January came from wind.

China announces it’ll set up a carbon tax; coal exports to drop

China has indicated that it will include a price on carbon in a new round of environmental taxes to tackle pollution.  And on the back of that, Deutsche Bank is predicting an 18% drop in global exports of thermal coal.