Will the government please please please keep the lights on?

Barry Brill and I condemn the wilful political blindness that contemplates destroying our energy security and risking dry-year blackouts by shutting down the last thermal power plant merely to win polite applause from other nations. Meanwhile, those same nations are brazenly operating a gigantic fleet of 3700 coal-fired power plants and building another 1900.

The Huntly gas and coal-fired power station is NZ’s largest thermal generator. With its coal generation halved to 500 MW and total capacity including gas now 953 MW, or about 5000 GWh/year, Huntly can still provide about 12% of our annual consumption. Genesis intends to remove the remaining coal units by 2022, and there’s an uncertain future for the gas units since the Prime Minister, without consulting interested parties such as the industry or the electorate, banned gas exploration.

Are New Zealand politicians naive? Babes in the wood? Country yokels who don’t understand realpolitik?

Every year, New Zealand climate ministers make speeches about closing down Huntly at climate conferences all over the world. This allows them to be seen as ‘good guys’ and join the ranks of counterpart ministers from dozens of other countries — all of whom are making speeches about closing coal plants. These speeches are a good thing. They give the ministers a rosy glow about their own selflessness and encourage everybody else to try harder for the noble cause.

Everybody (except New Zealand) knows that this is political theatre. It gets great headlines and makes the voters back home feel proud. It also encourages the troops — the thousands of full-time green activists who attend these gatherings as their annual perk. They need to re-stoke the inner fire if they are to go home and hit the streets with their collecting boxes.

So much for the speeches. Now, what do these ministers actually do? Here is a list of the coal-fired plants now operating and the new ones being built or planned (H/T Geoff Duffy):

COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS

COUNTRYEXISTINGPLANNEDFUTURE TOTAL
TOTALS372218925615
EU46827495
TURKEY5693149
SOUTH AFRICA7924103
INDIA5894461036
PHILIPPINES196079
SOUTH KOREA582684
JAPAN9045135
CHINA236311713534

For more detail, see this impressive illustration (an interactive website) of all the world’s coal-fired generators by Carbon Brief. Here’s a static image for an overview (click to enlarge):

Of particular interest are the categories  “under construction” and “planned”. In the EU, whose ministers always make the longest and loudest speeches, there are 5,810 MW (12 Huntlys) being constructed right now and a further 9,270 MW (19 Huntlys) planned. In non-EU Europe, 49,873 MW (over 100 Huntlys) are currently planned. The all-regions totals make nonsense of the very idea of “global decarbonisation”.

Even if you accept that human emissions of carbon dioxide will cause climatic calamities, these figures show that other nations’ emissions are overwhelming ours — so our scant sacrifices will never assist the climate.

It is particularly interesting to compare these figures with those of the English-speaking world (UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland). None under construction and none being planned. Is there something they put in the language in the Anglo-sphere? Or are they being out-foxed by cynical sophisticates from older language groups who better understand that words don’t always mean what they say?

New Zealand (with Australia) is the biggest fall guy of all. Although richly endowed with coal, our local usage is dwindling and exports have almost dried up. Successive climate ministers have set deadlines on the use of Huntly and constantly whittled away its stockpile of coal.

Genesis directors abandon the reliability of coal

What about the nation?

The 2018 Genesis Energy annual report (pdf, 2.47 MB) reveals on page 14 that this major company has practically eliminated its previously precious stock of coal and in its eagerness to join the anti-coal craze will soon scrap several billion dollars worth of plant that just a couple of decades ago was paid for by the taxpayer. The annual report tells the shareholders (emphasis added):

Over the past decade Genesis has provided the greatest reduction in emissions from within the electricity sector. Genesis’ share of electricity-related emissions has dropped from 59 per cent in 2008 to 44 per cent in 2017. We have reduced the coal stockpile by around 80 per cent within the last decade and have retired half of Huntly’s 1,000 megawatt coal-fired capacity.

They make that sound like a good thing, but the reality is that, in a dry year, Huntly can no longer keep the lights on without emergency imports of coal. Whatever quantity is required in a dry year, we certainly shouldn’t import coal when New Zealand sits on enough to keep us going for about 7000 years 1. What’s wrong with letting a dry season’s worth of coal just sit there for the good of the nation?

We know that burning coal in a modern, clean, soot-free, pollution-free furnace with flue scrubbers produces the cleanest emissions in history, but the MfE says they must now be called “dirty” just because they think carbon dioxide causes global warming. But calling it dirty doesn’t make it dirty. The MBIE lists 18 producing coal mines at the end of 2017, which together produce something over 2,800,000 tonnes of coal. We produce somewhat more than this, as there are four more “private” coal mines whose production is “confidential”.

Our main use of coal, not surprisingly, is to provide heat for various purposes. Our coal exports have been declining, about halved in 12 years, so we export about 1,200,000 tonnes, close to half our production (43%).

Honestly, that’s so third-world

Those 35 nations (28 EU member states and 7 others) mentioned in the table above either operate or have plans to build 5600 coal-fired power plants. It would be very wise for NZ to keep just one to prevent blackouts in a dry year when our lakes get low, at least until some of the planned gas generators listed below are actually online. Keeping the lights on is vital, regardless of the cost: so we need at least one large, reliable generator that doesn’t stop just because the sun sets, the wind dies down or it doesn’t rain! (So third-world!)

It’s hard to be certain, but it seems the industry itself is shutting down the coal-fired generators, apparently preferring the lower CO2 emissions of gas. The government encourages this, but perhaps it’s more of a plain financial response to the ETS—in which case it reveals the deep stupidity of the ETS. We need the lights on all of the time. We will not save the planet in the dark or stricken with poverty.

This opposition to coal (“keep it in the hole”) is driven by the Greens’ hatred of industry, not by an aversion to CO2 emissions. If they were serious about CO2, they’d be campaigning for nuclear power, because that’s the only practicable source of electricity that’s both affordable and carbon dioxide-free. Every other option either causes more emissions, is more expensive or is simply too unreliable for the needs of a modern economy. Even Germany, until recently the darling of Greens everywhere, is planning more coal-fired power stations to maintain security of supply and Canada plans to shut down its remaining 15 plants by taxing them to death — all this to “save the planet”.

Nothing to stop

Watch what happens when coal usage either declines to practically nothing or the hate campaign fails to put a dent in it: the Greens will attack some other aspect of industry, because their campaign has nothing to do with global warming—after all, with no significant warming for at least two decades, there’s nothing to stop, is there?

Let me demonstrate that. Here are the UAH tropospheric temperature anomalies at the end of October:

A little warming, but hardly dangerous. Current temperatures are little changed since the 1980s. The various excursions have returned to their starting points so we have to ask what the Greens are complaining about.

NZ thermal power plants with build consent

According to Wikipedia, the following planned thermal stations have been granted consent.

  • Orion New Zealand, Christchurch, two diesel-powered plants totalling 23 MW.
  • Nova Energy, Taranaki, a gas-powered plant of 100 MW.
  • Contact Energy, Otahuhu, a gas-powered plant of 400 MW.
  • Genesis Energy, Helensville, a gas-powered plant of 480 MW.

There are no new coal stations on the way, but diesel and gas are great fuels, and far more reliable than windmills. These total 1003 MW—a handsome addition to our fleet—though financial viability could be a problem, since this new capacity constitutes a lot more than the remaining 500 MW Huntly coal units waiting to be shut down.

New Zealand actually has a second major coal station of 112 MW, but it’s fully integrated with the Glenbrook steel mill and unavailable to the general network. It burns coal or gas, making good use of surplus natural gas from the iron-making kilns.

For the last 70 years and more we’ve made excellent use of the fine resources nature gave us, but this coalition government has had its brain royally ruined by greenwashing and there are grave fears that unless our leaders open their eyes to the facts, this shangri-la in the South Pacific could be in for a horrid awakening.


  1. Dividing our proven reserves of coal (from GNS Science) by our total coal consumption in 2017.

22 Thoughts on “Will the government please please please keep the lights on?

  1. Why are we planning gas fired power stations when the government have stopped all further gas exploration?

  2. Coal-fired is by far the most expensive source of electricity in NZ. Huntly doesn’t operate most of the time purely for economic reasons. We do however need some form of thermal back-up when lake levels are low. NZ is incredibly fortunate in having huge untapped geothermal resources. There are a number of planned geothermal power stations which are on hold because the electricity demand is not there.
    If you want any credibility, you have to stop denying that the climate is warming. Drawing a flat line on a temperature time series which show clear evidence of a warming trend just makes you look stupid. Your claim that there has been no significant warming for at least two decades is false. Significant has a precise meaning. Do the math, look at the p-value, and then test for significance.

  3. Richard Treadgold on December 4, 2018 at 9:05 am said:

    Andy,

    Yes, an important point I could have elaborated. The MBIE reports:

    Gas reserves, defined as quantities that are commercially recoverable, stood at 1,985 Petajoules at 1 January 2018. It represents around 10.5 years of demand at 2017 demand levels.

    Noting:

    The Government’s announcement in April to halt the granting of any new offshore oil and gas exploration permits prompted a high level of interest in the status of the reserves.

    Of course, as we might expect. Neanderthals. Still, there are existing exploration permits to be exploited, plus perhaps new land-based permits. And surely the coalition will be extinguished at the next election and Winston Peters punished for the treason of raising the Greens over the Nats.

  4. Richard Treadgold on December 4, 2018 at 9:10 am said:

    Simon,

    Read what I said: “A little warming, but hardly dangerous.” You’re yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre, you muppet.

    How much warming do you claim there’s been over the last 20 years?

    Coal-fired is by far the most expensive source of electricity in NZ.

    No it isn’t. Prove it.

  5. Peter Fraser on December 4, 2018 at 9:49 am said:

    The recent South Island rain has saved the day this time. Spot prices for electricity a few days ago were through the roof. At some stage we will be caught out. If we have a surplus of power generation at present as Simon suggests why is Top Energy extending the Nawha geothermal plant with such alacrity.

  6. Richard,
    It’s not a little warming, it is about 0.175°C/decade since 1980, which is extremely dangerous. There have been several reports produced from multiple governments and organisations that discuss the implications.
    Genesis will never tell you what their cost structure is but the coal-fired unit never kicks in unless prices are high. Pre-Genesis days it was around 18.5c/kWh. The gas-fired units would be cheaper than that.

    Peter,
    Exactly my point. We need thermal backup for hydro and wind, and geothermal makes much more sense than coal-fired. I don’t think the Government should have banned natural gas exploration as there is no harm in having that option as a backup. Importing coal from Indonesia is the worst possible outcome.

  7. Gas is good for peak load as you can ramp it up very quickly.

    Coal is a baseload supply. A good chunk of NZs electricity generation is from coal if you look at EM6 Live

  8. Barry Brill on December 4, 2018 at 10:00 pm said:

    Simon, you can’t use geothermal for dry-year back-up. It’s a 24/7 baseload source and will already be running flat out when Lake Hawea’s levels drop into the danger zone.

    In any case, there’s virtually no hydro prospects left and not much geothermal. What are you proposing for the huge extra demand the Government is planning for its EV fleet?

    BTW, you attempted to answer an assertion that there has been no statistically significant warming in the past 20 years with a reference to warming in the past 37 years. Why? To include the only sustained warming period since World War 2?

    It’s widely agreed that there was no significant warming for the 18 years between 1997 and 2015. Then the 2015-16 super El Nino (weather, not climate) broke the pattern with the fastest warming year on record. However, since the peak in February 2016, we have seen the fastest cooling period on record. Within a few months, its very likely the latest 22-year period will show no significant warming.

  9. Richard Treadgold on December 5, 2018 at 11:37 am said:

    Simon,

    How do you calculate that increase since 1980 and what dataset are you using? It’s perfectly stupid to classify a possible 1.75 °C/100 yrs as “extremely dangerous”, when forecasts under RCP 8.5 were 6 °C and up, and the IPCC have been urging us to keep it (as if we could) under 2 °C by 2100, which would be satisfied by your figure.

    I looked at five of the global temperature datasets on Climate4You to get an idea of the trend from 1975 to October this year, just looking at the change over that period. You don’t explain why you chose to start in 1980, but I said 20 years and took it back a year or three to avoid the El Nino. I couldn’t understand the RSS data so didn’t use it. The 100-year trends in four of the datasets are as follows.

    UAH 0.426 °C
    HadCRUT 1.125 °C
    NCDC 1.739 °C
    GISS 1.542 °C

    None are “extremely dangerous” and all under the magic 2 °C.

    You must know that the cost of coal generation is not the price of coal-fired electricity after it has been driven up by the high cost of wind power. They only turn on the coal generators to profit from the windmills. But that’s the dreadful result of our electricity pricing system, clearly designed by the very bandits who benefit.

    Claiming that coal is “by far the most expensive source of electricity in NZ” is not true.

  10. Brett Keane on December 6, 2018 at 5:09 am said:

    Typically, warmista use the upward curve of a sinewave for their heatogeddon claims. What went up is now coming down. Dishonesty has its own special reward.
    Clean modern coal plants are misused as spinning reserve so they are made to look expensive but falsely-so. Genesis plays and dances to the financial tunes of politicians but they are seeing the light all over the world. Hence the new Coal Plants abuilding and aplanning. For purveyors of lies, the End is nearer than they realise. Jacinda’s winter heating subsidy is welcomed by us pensioners, but we know it would not be needed if our power had not already been artificially priced up eg the Max Bradford ‘Reforms’ with more planned soon. Open-cast Scrubbed Coal is ridiculously cheap and those who claim otherwise should be made to chew on it…… Brett

  11. Richard Treadgold on December 6, 2018 at 11:20 am said:

    Brett,

    Clean modern coal plants are misused as spinning reserve so they are made to look expensive

    Ah. I knew this theoretically, in relation to backing up turbine farms, but hearing it come back to me from a warmster alleging coal is expensive took me by surprise. Turning the argument around makes it sound like something else. Thanks for the clarification.

    Agree with the rest of what you say. What do you mean by “more reforms soon”?

  12. Brett Keane on December 7, 2018 at 9:24 am said:

    Re More reforms soon: The raft of Select Committee hearings over decarbonisation basically. As they say, why not get rid of Farmers and just get our food from Supermarkets? Brett

  13. Richard Treadgold on December 7, 2018 at 9:44 am said:

    Oh, I see. I like the idea of getting rid of farms. I live near them. Sometimes they smell awful. Supermarkets have nice music playing.

  14. You need at least 30 years to determine a temperature trend. All of the surface temperature time series will give the same result. The 2 °C limit recommendation is from pre-industrial. We are half-way there already.
    The marginal cost of renewables electricity production is almost zero. You need to purchase the fuel for thermal generation. If coal really was cheaper, the Huntly unit would be operating continuously.
    Max Bradford’s reforms originally had a separation of generator and supplier to prevent the cross-subsidisation behaviour that the big players were engaging in recently.

  15. Barry Brill on December 7, 2018 at 1:17 pm said:

    Simon – this is an opportunity for you to explain why you choose to measure temperature increases from “pre-industrial” – rather than from the 1960s, when the IPCC says human-caused emissions began having a detectable impact.

    The term gives you latitude to cherry-pick any start-point before 1712 (invention of steam engine). But the IPCC doesn’t do that. It picks the end of the Little Ice Age (1850-90), which certainly was NOT pre-industrial. This start-point just happens to be the lowest recorded temperature in recent centuries. Now that is deceitful.

    The IPCC also says CO2 atmospheric concentration was 280ppm in “pre-industrial times”. This rough figure doesn’t derive from the late 19th century, but from much earlier proxy sources. Keeling’s accurate figures began from 313ppm in 1958. So there is a disconnect between the timing of the base temperature and the base CO2.

    On a second point – you don’t need 30 years to determine a temperature trend. THE UNFCCC treaty was agreed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 despite the fact that the warming trend was only 12 years old!

    Thirdly, 0.87°C of warming since pre-industrial is cited in last month’s SR-15. That’s not “half-way there” to 2°C.

  16. Brett Keane on December 7, 2018 at 8:39 pm said:

    Good idea Richard. Let the farms go wild, as the Supermarket carparks will be for a short while.


    🙂

  17. if wind energy is so cheap, why does South Australia, which has lots of wind energy, have some of the most expensive electricity prices in the world?

  18. The Little Ice Age was not an ice age but rather three cold periods around 1650, 1770, and 1850 primarily driven by volcanic activity. 1850 is also the first year in which we have reliable global thermometer coverage. The actual definition of ‘pre-industrial’ used by the IPCC is the average temperature between 1850-1900 to negate the impact of the cold period around 1850.
    The decade 2006–2015 was 0.87°C (likely between 0.75°C and 0.99°C) warmer than pre-industrial times (1850–1900). As of October 2018, we are at +1.06 relative to 1850-1900. http://globalwarmingindex.org/
    The climate is warming Barry, it is pointless trying to deny it.

  19. Richard Treadgold on December 11, 2018 at 9:34 am said:

    Incredible. Once again you give us mere computer models.

  20. Thermometers are not computers. Statistics don’t require computers either, they just make the calculation easier.

  21. Richard Treadgold on December 11, 2018 at 12:15 pm said:

    Sure. Hey, I’ve found this black box! You put the problem in at one end and the answer comes out the other end. It’s fantastic!

    When the graphs all claim warming since 1980 of about 1.0 °C this is highly suspect. It doesn’t apply to NZ and is not confirmed by NIWA’s 7SS. I don’t know how you can say that the GWI originates solely from thermometers and not models, when the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute itself describes how the GWI is “estimated” (‘realisations’ refers to model runs; ‘estimates’ refers to guessing):

    Animation of the main steps needed to estimate the Global Warming Index. The first and second step shows observations and natural and anthropogenic foring (sic) estimates (W/m2), including 200 different realisations that comprise the full forcing uncertainty. The third step is the application of the response model which converts forcing in a fast and slow temperature equivalent as a function of the best estimate for TCR, ECS and the response times. In the fourth and fifth step (sic), the sum of the two responses before regression with the observed temperature is shown together with the resulting combined temperature response (red). The sixth step is the same response after multiplying it with the slope provided by the the (sic) least-square-fit between temperature and natural/anthropogenic response (sic). Finally, the full uncertainty range for the natural and the human-induced contributions is estimated and added to the graph.

    This is without mentioning the shattering revelation that they have discovered precisely the natural and man-made forcings and therefore the temperature trends they each induce. Though they haven’t yet advised the IPCC, who still don’t know the difference. It sounds as though you believe them, too.

  22. The GWI is a measure of observed warming. Attribution is solely an apportionment of the observed warming to natural and anthropogenic forcing components. You can dismiss that if you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that as at October 2018, the observed temperature is +1.06°C higher than the mean temperature between 1850-1900.

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