When Gerry Brownlee released the government’s draft New Zealand Energy Strategy (NZES) for public consultation in July last year, it was met with a barrage of criticism from the likes of Labour and WWF following concerns that it was too heavily reliant on the continued extraction of fossil fuels. Now many months down the track and just weeks away from its planned approval, it looks as if nothing much has changed after an apparent near-final draft copy was accidentally posted online by government officials.
Environment group Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA) managed to obtain a copy of the draft, together with the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, and has posted it on its website (download it here). On Sunday, CANA spokesperson Frances Mountier released a statement saying:
"We have obtained what appears to be a very recent draft copy of the current Government’s New Zealand Energy Strategy - recent enough that is shows Hekia Parata rather than Gerry Brownlee as the responsible Minister. The previous Government's detailed strategy has been watered down to a 40 page glossy booklet that we have decided to make available on our blog as of today.”
While the plan acknowledges New Zealand’s renewable energy potential, it again places a big emphasis on fossil fuel extraction, with Acting Minister of Energy and Resources Hekia Parata stating in the drafts opening:
“More than 1.2 million square kilometers of our exclusive economic zone are likely to be underlain by sedimentary basins thick enough to generate petroleum...For too long now we have not made the most of the wealth hidden in our hills, under the ground, and in our oceans. It is a priority of this government to responsibly develop those resources.”
In the leaked draft, the plan states its goals as follows:
The government’s goal is for New Zealand to make the most of its abundant energy potential, for the benefit of all New Zealanders.
This will be achieved through the environmentally-responsible development and efficient use of the country’s diverse energy resources, so that:
- The economy grows, powered by secure, competitively-priced energy and increasing energy exports.
- The environment is recognised for its importance to our New Zealand way of life.
Mountier says the leaked plan reveals the Government’s stated commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as “a sham”.
"Its top priority is stated as being to develop petroleum and mineral fuel resources ahead of other priorities like developing renewable energy resources, and embracing new energy technologies," says Mountier.
"This approach, which is demonstrated by the present Government's enthusiasm for mining lignite and handing out deep water oil drilling permits regardless of the environmental consequences, is completely incompatible with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and will instead lead to major increases in emissions."
An “energy agenda from the 19th century” is how the Green Party has described the plan in a press release.
Green Party Energy spokesperson Dr Kennedy Graham says the leaked plan makes it clear that the Government does not “have a logical, coherent plan”.
“On one of the first pages of the document, the strategy acknowledges that oil prices and the cost of greenhouse gases will rise.
“But instead of developing a plan to reduce our reliance on these unsustainable energy sources, it goes on to prioritise fossil fuels like offshore oil drilling and lignite — the dirtiest coal,” says Graham.
And though the leaked document states that there have been a “large number of quality submissions on the draft New Zealand Energy Strategy and the draft New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy,” Graham says the government has ignored a large number of quality submissions that supported the development of renewables, energy efficiency and new technology rather than exploiting fossil fuels and mineral resources.
“We can have a smart, green economy that delivers real prosperity—for that we need a smart, green Energy Strategy. New Zealand’s prosperity in the future will depend on investment in clean, green technology and sustainable jobs, not opening our shores to foreign companies to exploit a 19th century resource,” he says.
Meanwhile the Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) says the strategy needs an urgent revision , also pointing to its over-emphasis on oil and gas exploitation and coal development.
“The strategy alarmingly includes a reference to the exploitation of marine methane hydrates and lignite: both are disastrous ideas,” says ECO co-chair Cath Wallace.
She says the government has an opportunity to get ahead of our trading partners with investment in renewables and energy efficiency.
“Going down the extractive path leads New Zealand on an outmoded high carbon development track delaying the regearing of the economy.”
The draft strategy reveals a renewable target for electricity generation, which states:
“The government retains the aspirational, but achievable, target that 90 percent of electricity generation be from renewable sources by 2025 (in an average hydrological year) providing this does not affect security of supply.”
But how exactly the government plans to achieve that isn’t made abundantly clear according to Wallace, who says the draft does not have any strategies on how to get to the strategy’s 90 percent renewable target or the 10-20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emission by 2020 or the 50 percent reduction by 2050.
When questioned by Green Party co-leader and Acting Minister of Energy and Resources Russel Norman yesterday about the leaked plan, Hekia Parata defended it by saying "the government is yet to finalise its energy strategy".
When Norman pressed on and asked Parata if she was "aware that if New Zealand goes ahead and digs up its lignite coal, as proposed in the draft strategy, it will result in the release of greenhouse emissions equivalent to 150 times our current annual emissions, and how is that compatible with the “50 by 50” target for reducing emissions?", Parata replied again with the very undescriptive: "The government has not yet finalised its energy strategy."