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It seems like an amazing admission in these times — that we still need coal to keep the lights on.
A high percentage of New Zealand’s electricity — about 80% — comes from renewable hydro or geothermal sources, should anyone need reminding of the fact. We have built a proud reputation for generating power from largely clean sources.
Yet the minute any extra pressure is placed on our creaking national grid, by constraints on generating plant, particularly when South Island hydro-electric lakes are low, or when there is high demand caused by a cold snap, we still have to reach for coal as our saviour.
Figures released this week by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provide a shocking example of this. In the first half of this year, more than 1 million tonnes of coal was burnt in New Zealand, a greater amount than used in any full-year since 2012.
Between April and June, 12% of the nation’s electricity came from burning coal, and in that quarter coal imports were the highest on record, at 632,000 tonnes.
The upshot of this is that renewable energy generation in the quarter dropped to 75%, the lowest since 2013 and more than 10 percentage points down on the highest recorded, in December 2019.
This amount of coal burning is an inconvenient truth for the Government and Energy Minister Megan Woods.
It is also embarrassing for a government which has expressly stated its desire to have 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
Unfortunately, the options to avoid coal when the hydro-lakes are low have been limited. While hydro and geothermal generation dropped 5% each in the June quarter, generation from gas was down 13%, due to what MBIE said was a ‘‘tightened gas supply’’ from the Pohokura gas field.
Gas has been acknowledged as a vital cog in the machine for New Zealand’s transition to a low-carbon economy and there are currently concerns that proposed legislation around it may affect the security of electricity supply.
One hundred percent renewable electricity is certainly the way to go.
But the recent bind is a reminder that we are a long way off it yet.
And that largely relying on water, wind and sun in a place with such changeable weather as New Zealand still leaves us at the mercy of coal if anything goes wrong.
And another thing . . .
What on earth is wrong with people these days?
Less than a week after the terrifying terror attack in the New Lynn supermarket, which left seven people injured and others traumatised, Countdown staff in a number of stores are reporting an increase in abuse from customers.
RNZ says the abuse has been both verbal and physical. Countdown spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin says it has resorted to body cameras to try to prevent violence and record any that does happen.
Sure, people have a lot on their minds at the moment, particularly those in Auckland where the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown continues. It is a very stressful time and the world seems like a pretty dark place some days.
But this kind of violence is appalling and totally unacceptable. Lowly-paid supermarket staff on the front line — many of them young people still at school or studying — should not have to deal with such repugnant behaviour.
It really makes a mockery of our ‘‘team of 5 million’’. Perhaps it is really only a team of, say, 4.95 million or so, with the remainder a morass of self-absorbed morons, just out for themselves.
The most charitable conclusion is we should feel sorry for these people because they are clearly lacking in the brains department and/or when it comes to empathy.
The alternative conclusion is they are simply nasty and inadequate, and do little themselves to contribute to a better, more understanding society.