The drought and dwindling southern hydro lakes are playing havoc with the nation's carbon footprint.
Fossil-fuelled power stations in the North Island are every day burning thousands of tonnes of coal and up to a million litres of diesel oil to help conserve precious South Island hydro lakes and ensure the country has enough electricity.
However, the effect of all that extra combustion from thermal stations running flat out, including Huntly and the country's back-up station at Whirinaki, is that since mid-March carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have soared and show no sign of falling.
The Government appears unperturbed by the rise in emissions, saying the long-term trend is what counts, but the National Party is calling it "a disaster" and says the increase continues the pattern set during Labour's term in office.
National's energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee and its environment spokesman Nick Smith said the electricity emissions added to figures released yesterday in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's national exotic forest annual report, which revealed the worst deforestation in the country in 50 years after the chopping down of 13,600ha of forest last year.
Smith said the forestry debacle had added 10 million tonnes of CO2 to New Zealand's emissions. "Put this alongside the massive current increase in emissions from electricity generation and the Government's carbon neutral slogan looks like a fraud," Smith said.
Today the finance and expenditure select committee is scheduled to discuss the Government's Climate Change (Emissions Trading and Renewable Preference) Bill in private.
A spokeswoman for Energy and Climate Change Minister David Parker said she hoped select committee members would not be "so easily distracted that they start talking about emissions from Whirinaki and Huntly".
Figures for the week to Sunday show estimated CO2 emissions from thermal power stations have risen by about 75 per cent from about 125,000 tonnes a week in mid-March to 220,000 tonnes a week.
Asked if he was concerned about that and if anything could be done about it, Parker said the longer-term trend was more important and that CO2 emissions from the electricity sector had fallen since about 2000.
"They will continue to go down under the Labour Government, which has a target of reaching 90% renewable electricity generation by 2025. This is achievable, as it requires around 175 megawatts (MW) of renewable generation to be built each year, and this year we are building 300MW."
Brownlee said if the recent thermal emissions were added to the deforestation figures "it's just a disaster".
Brownlee was perplexed as to why Parker would say electricity sector emissions were falling.
"The amount of electricity generated from thermal sources has massively grown since they took office," Brownlee said. "Three-quarters of all generation brought on stream in the last nine years has been thermal."
Brownlee admitted the Government had little choice but to run thermal stations at capacity.
"If your renewable energy can't deliver, then of course you will have to drop back to thermal, but the real point underlying all of this is the Resource Management Act has made it a lot easier to build thermal as opposed to building renewable stuff."
Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor said it was a concern that CO2 emissions were rising in the short term, but it was good the Government had a national energy strategy to generate 90% of the country's electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
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