New power station shows energy policies failing – Gareth Hughes MP – Green Party energy spokesperson



Every day when you open the newspaper it seems there’s a new study, record broken or super storm related to climate change. Alongside 190 other nations, New Zealand has agreed to start reducing our emissions, but the country’s next power station looks like it will run on gas and release climate-changing pollution. I think it’s a strong example that our current electricity policies are failing to help us achieve our clean energy ambitions.

Nova Energy is proposing to build a new 360 MW gas-burning power plant in south Waikato. Some of that gas will likely be from fracking, and burning it will contribute to climate change. It’s estimated to release between 425,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, if it runs at the same level as a similar existing plant in Stratford. To give a sense of the size, it would take 16,989 hectares of new forest planted to offset that, over the 20 year life of the plant.

Nova’s consent application comes less than a year after Genesis reversed a decision and decided to continue burning coal at its massive Huntly power station, locking in more pollution into the next decade.

In New Zealand, we are rightfully proud that approximately 80% of our electricity comes from renewable sources and the country has a target to reach 90% by 2025. But why are we then building more fossil fuel generation? When we have less renewable generation as a percentage than we had in 1980, why is the electricity sector’s response to build more polluting coal and gas generation?

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To me this proposed plant is a singular example of the failure of our electricity system.

We set a target to get to 90% renewables but National developed no plan to get there, and in fact emasculated the Emissions Trading Scheme, which was designed to send a price signal against investing in new emissions. The industry is building what they know and the low carbon price sends them the signal to invest in fossil fuels.

We have almost 4000 MW of consented renewable projects that be built tomorrow, for example the Castle Hill wind farm, so why the reliance on fossil fuels?

One part of the answer is the investment uncertainty arising from the Government’s subsidies to keep the Tiwai aluminium smelter open for a few years. It seems no one wants to risk building a large new clean power project when more than a tenth of our electricity demand could disappear at short notice.

Gas “peakers”, like Nova’s proposed plant, are often presented as an indispensable part of our electricity system to cope with the electricity demand peak (mostly when people get home from work and turn on the lights, heaters and start cooking dinner) and also to deal with fluctuating wind generation. It’s unimaginative to believe burning gas the only option to deal with those issues and, in fact, contrary to what’s happening overseas.

If more pollution is the answer we are asking the wrong question.

I was recently in the United States and met leading energy thinker Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He coined the term negawatts, to illustrate that it’s considerably cheaper to save electricity at key times than just build new megawatts of generation.

We could look at price signals to help save electricity at peak times. I’m a big fan of real-time prices where customers can choose fluctuating prices based on the cost of generation. That sees people move their consumption by making decisions like having hot water cylinders or spas on timers, or doing the laundry during the day or late at night to avoid the more costly peak.

We could look at efficiency. Our Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) estimates we could save 20% of the $18 billion New Zealanders spend on electricity every year. I’m proud the Green Party, working with the Government, insulated 300,000 homes and along with making them warmer, healthier homes saved a lot of electricity too. Unfortunately the Government’s latest Budget saw insulation funding reduce to its lowest level in years, despite there still being hundreds of thousands of cold, damp and expensive-to-heat homes.

It’s not exactly a new idea, but we could look to burning wood in efficient wood burners, which is a cosy, carbon neutral solution to reduce the need to burn polluting gas. We could use the free power of the sun to heat and store water, reducing some of the need for peak time electricity generation. We could look what other countries have done to encourage innovative solutions that see people rewarded for using less electricity at peak or constrained times.

We are now seeing Tesla Powerwalls and other home-scale batteries imported into New Zealand and rapidly dropping in price. These allow power from solar panels or even from the grid to be stored when prices are cheap, to avoid the need to burn fossil fuels to supply the peak.

Like many Kiwis, I want to see a cleaner electricity grid and less pollution. In 2016, we shouldn’t be building more fossil fuel generation and locking ourselves into many more years of emissions. We have a wealth of alternatives available from new renewable generation to energy efficiency and conservation initiatives – and conservation is almost always cheaper than any other option.

Nova’s proposed station is a symbol of our climate failure and failure of the electricity system to deliver a cleaner grid. Building new power plants that will burn gas for decades to come will make it harder to do what’s right to stop climate change. We could be investing in more windfarms, solar power, and smart solutions.

We will be opposing Nova’s plan to build this new source of pollution, and opposing the Government’s weak rules that mean Nova thinks it’s a good idea to build it.

Environment Minister Nick Smith should step up and make Nova’s proposal to build a new gas-fired power plant a matter of national significance, so we can have a proper debate about it. We’re doing this because it’s only a “limited notification” consent application under the Resource Management Act (RMA), which means most Kiwis and myself won’t get to have a say.

We’re opposing Nova’s proposal even though the RMA doesn’t deal properly with climate change. And no matter the outcome, I’ll keep advocating for cleaner, smarter, cheaper solutions.


  1. This is a very good Point here Gareth,

    It is well documented now that drilling into the earths outer crust and releasing pressure such as “Gas or oil” is having a profound effect on the increased activities of earthquakes that will follow so who’s going to be responsible for the ensuring damages when they follow NOVA’s seismic generated activities using fracking?

    NOVA, Genesis & all other fracking operators, must be held responsible in future for all earthquake damages not the property owners’ their insurance companies nor EQC the public funded insurer, so there are many sides to that coin.

    “Nova Energy is proposing to build a new 360 MW gas-burning power plant in south Waikato. Some of that gas will likely be from fracking, and burning it will contribute to climate change. It’s estimated to release between 425,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, if it runs at the same level as a similar existing plant in Stratford. To give a sense of the size, it would take 16,989 hectares of new forest planted to offset that, over the 20 year life of the plant.

    Nova’s consent application comes less than a year after Genesis reversed a decision and decided to continue burning coal at its massive Huntly power station, locking in more pollution into the next decade.”

  2. I would like to see John Key and this government taken to court for at the least criminal negligence and at the worse crimes against humanity, along with leaders of other countries who are not actually doing anything about climate change, given that the scale of devastation caused by climate change will be much larger than the devastation caused by Japan and Germany in World War II.

  3. I agree with your argument although I wonder about the short term consequence of wood burning, as long as trees are replanted then over time it will be carbon neutral but from the initial burn it will be negative till the trees grow, I am not sure how many years that takes.
    Another idea that could work is large scale batteries to store wind & solar from off peak to use in peak times. While house batteries are good for those who can afford them many in NZ are unable to afford them. I have no idea how efficient it would be with a loss in storage & allowing for battery replacement cost although if it used off peak power from wind & solar that would be wasted otherwise that should help its affordability.

  4. Industrial civilization is inherently unsustainable, and no [phony] narratives about switching to ‘clean’ or ‘renewable’ energy sources is going to alter the fundamental fact that industrial civilization is totally dependent on the extraction and burning of coal, oil and gas -the conversion of sequestered forms of carbon into atmospheric and oceanic pollution .

    Not one of the materials -steel, copper, aluminium, glass, ceramics, plastics, concrete etc.- required to establish a so-called sustainable energy system can be produced without massive inputs of coal, and oil/gas, and the entire infrastructure of industrial nations is dependent on continuous supply of bitumen and broken rock (broken and transported by petroleum-powered machinery) to keep the transport system from collapsing. (Around here low-use road surfaces are replaced every 3-4 years, and high-use road surfaces are replaced at 1-2 year intervals, all of the work being done by petroleum-powered machinery.)

    Even if a stupendous global effort were made to switch to so-called renewables, corrosion and entropy would reduce the investment in so-called renewable back to metal ores and crumbling concrete. It is only through continuous maintenance using petroleum-powered machinery that the electricity grid continues to function right now.

    It naturally follows that the only truly renewable energy system is photosynthetic capture of solar energy and its most common manifestation of that photosynthetic system -a wood fire (perhaps surrounded by a few rocks). Even iron woodstoves with metal flues are unsustainable in the long run because they require the mining of iron ore, its conversion into iron via coke (derived from coal) and transport via diesel-powered vehicles.

    Pledges made by governments or political parties to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are completely meaningless because the entire economic-financial system is dependent on INCREASING emissions to maintain the global financial Ponzi scheme -which requires increased population levels and/or increased levels of personal consumption to continue to exist.

    The purpose of government is not to establish sustainable energy systems or a sustainable population level (since that would require a return to pre-European-contact, Maori-style living arrangements -all natural materials crafted by hand into useful objects- and a pre-European population level). The purpose of government is to prevent the Ponzi financial system from collapsing for as long as possible via INCREASED energy and resource use.

    Until the present globalized capitalist system completely destroys itself via energy depletion or planetary overheating the march to self-annihilation will continue at an ever faster pace -note the latest atmospheric CO2 update:

    Daily CO2
    September 26, 2016:  400.91 ppm
    September 26, 2015:  397.51 ppm.

    Up 3.40 ppm date-to-date, nearly five times the annual increase that was occurring less than one lifetime ago.

    The lack of understanding of fundamental chemistry and physics (or the ignoring of fundamental facts) that characterizes our so-called leaders and the bureaucrats who enforce their ridiculous schemes will keep us on the path that leads to self-annihilation for quite a while longer.

    Eight months from now we will break through 412 ppm, perhaps even break through 413 ppm. And a decade from now we’ll be looking at 450 ppm.

  5. It is quite clear that National has no concept of the urgency of the climate crisis or the devastating effect it is expected to have on the global economy. They are yesterday’s men (and women).

    The real problem here however is the ignorance, apathy and short-term selfishness of the vast bulk of the voting-age population. So, many people vote for the Nats purely and simply in terms of “what’s in it for me, now?” Increases in personal wealth from rising house prices, possible tax cuts, and the chance to bash beneficiaries are the issues that middle and upper income groups care about – longer-term issues don’t cut it.

    Add to that the fact that the mainstream media are mostly controlled by commercial interests keen to keep their profits healthy by maintaining the status quo.

    Key, of course, is a master at sucking up to celebs such as the All Blacks, knowing that the shine will rub off on him. Such is the tribalism of Kiwi Hobbitses.

    So the question is, how do we turn the ship around? How do we get people thinking more about long-term issues of sustainability – issues that form the foundation for every sector of our economic wellbeing? Do we wait until there are so many climate disasters – flood, droughts, storms – that even the most stupidly conservative people start to put two and two together? by then it will be a bit late.

  6. Thanks Gareth.

    Wave generated power; zero point energy – Tesla : wind generated power ; INDUSTRIAL HEMP ; solar power etc. need tons of funding and not some corporate greedy Nova idiot idea and plans that they are putting forth. More corporate greed and insanity and this govt. is full of insane ideas and plans that are not good for people or for the environment.

  7. I think people here are smart enough to know National will not do anything more than sign pieces of paper ratifying this and that. And unfortunately Labour is not that much better.

    You can sign a hundred pieces of paper overseas and here on climate change, but if none of them are active law changes backed by appropriate funding and resourcing, that hundred signatures was a waste of time.

    Which is why I am not voting either at the election. And as I am too conservative for the Greens, that leaves New Zealand First.

  8. Good article. The trouble is, no-one seems to be wanting everyone to be more energy efficient. Sure, the powers-the-be have their ‘Energywise’ campaign, but who are they really targeting? Is it merely a sop to placate the Greenies? No one points out that so-called energy efficient florescent bulbs, while using much less power, cannot be disposed of in the conventional manner. How many are aware of this?
    Heating. Let’s all have heatpumps. Very efficient, so I’m told. But at the end of the day, they use electricity, and the more they are installed, the more electricity has to be produced for the demand. There are no subsidies that I’m aware of for solar heating/power, and if there are, they’re not enough. Sadly, this country is geared to consumerism/greed.

  9. Dear Greens
    Where is your active support of encouraging more engineering students and ‘bribing’/’subsidising’ businesses to give such students solid experience in this critical area of power generation and saving?

    Where is the push to get NZ to the front of the research and development of effective and cost efficient alternatives to mass power generation? And to upgrading our present power infrastructure without overloading consumers with pay hikes for the upper echelons? Alternatives for countries with often-cloudy skies…

    Where is YOUR party’s push for making here, or importing, extremely frugal power-use staples such as fridges and stoves, and water and home heating?

    What’s the state of the legislation and regulations around home energy generation? Does it need upgrade and stripping of protections for corporations while still maintaining stiff-enough safety groundrules?

    PS I’m not so sure that people ARE indifferent. There was once a Green co-leader who wanted parliamentary reform but he’s dead just now, along with his notions. (Why?) And referendum after another shows that the parliamentary incumbents have cloth ears plus an overweening attitude to listening to the voting public when it’s not election year.

    Maybe it’s time to get out and about like the indefatigable Winston? He certainly seems to be able to find pulses in the moribund assorted ‘classes’ in this miserable country.

  10. While there may be many alternatives in managing our electricity use, and to save energy, while also using more regenerative energy, I remain concerned about the idea that we should replace our fossil fuel burning cars with electric cars.

    That will substantially increase electricity demand, and require more generation. Also will the many batteries be a new challenge, as they will at some stage become old and no longer usable. Then they need to be gotten rid of, which means treating toxic materials. Some materials may be recycled but some cannot and needs to be safely disposed of.

    So there is much more work to be done than what Gareth writes about.

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