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Government gets international on renewable energy in one breath, Australian company applies for NZ mining permit the next

Government gets international on renewable energy in one breath, Australian company applies for NZ mining permit the next

By 2025, New Zealand should be generating 90 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. That goal was recently outlined in the Government’s National Policy Statement, which also puts forth an aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Apparently, renewable energy is a big thing in New Zealand. Now an announcement by Acting Minister of Energy and Resources, Hekia Parata, that New Zealand has gained membership into the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), seeks to further enhance that stance. 

Based in Abu Dhabi, IRENA works closely with international bodies like International Energy Agency (IEA), and places a strong focus on capacity building in developing countries, including Pacific Island states.  

“Renewables and energy efficiency are a big part of our energy picture,” says Parata. “We are a world leader in geothermal energy. Our rivers and lakes have long provided hydro-electricity and our wind resources are world class.” 

But is hydro energy truly renewable, or in the very least, sustainable? Hydro’s environmental credentials have often been debated. As well as having an impact on wildlife, hydro dams don’t last forever, and their decommissioning can cause built-up toxins in sediments to be released, a process which the author K. Gregg Elliott says could lead to carbon release in the atmosphere (read the article here). 

Parata maintains New Zealand's membership shows “ the balanced approach our Government is taking to building a sustainable energy and resources future".  

It’s an interesting statement, considering a recently leaked copy of the Government’s draft New Zealand Energy Strategy (NZES) generated much criticism for its emphasis on fossil fuel extraction.

That focus on fossil-fuel extraction has been bolstered by news Chinese-backed Australian mining company Greywolf Goldmining NL has applied for permits to drill the seabed for oil and gas, as well as to prospect for coal in Golden Bay. The company has also applied for prospecting permits to search for coal in Kahurangi National Park, including around the Heaphy Track. 

Not surprisingly, the announcement is already facing opposition from the likes of the Green Party, iwi and Forest and Bird. 

“New Zealanders have said that mining national parks is ‘just not OK’, but here we are again. The government’s continued promotion of mining and drilling has encouraged a foreign mining company to look for fossil fuels in our pristine natural areas,” says Forest & Bird conservation advocate Quentin Duthie. 

The oil exploration permit application area includes the shoreline of Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks, Farewell Spit Nature Reserve, and the Westhaven and Tonga Island marine reserves. Mining is prohibited in all of these areas by Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, although some parts of the large areas being applied for fall outside the schedule’s protection. 

The Green Party’s Kevin Hague says there is a significant local industry centred on outdoor tourism which could be threatened by mining and drilling of fossil fuels. 

“The Abel Tasman National Park is visited by well over a hundred thousand international tourists a year. It also attracts many New Zealand holiday-makers and is by far the most popular of the Great Walks, with over 30,000 walkers who stay multiple nights each year,” says Hague. 

He says there’s an opportunity to develop a clean, green economy with high value jobs that didn’t rely on finite resources. 

“But we won’t achieve that if we continually open our precious lands and waters to exploitation by foreign mining giants.” 

According to Forest and Bird, Greywolf Goldmining applied for a second oil exploration permit last week off the coast between Greymouth and Westport. This area includes the coastal Paparoa National Park and the famous blowholes at Punakaiki.

“The government needs a reality check. A hasty rush to find fossil fuels in pristine areas runs the very real risk of killing the goose – New Zealand’s natural environment – that lays our golden eggs – tourism and primary production,” says Forest & Bird top of the south field officer Debs Martin. 

But according to a stuff.co.nz article, Greywolf Goldmining chief executive Edward Lancaster is well aware of the anti-mining sentiment of many New Zealanders and says if the objection is too strong, the company may explore opportunities in South America instead. 

But a look at the Greywolf Goldmining website shows the company has many a number of explorative interests in New Zealand.

It was only very recently that the arrival of Brazilian-based oil company Petrobras encountered protest for its plans to carry out a seismic survey in the Raukumara Basin.