The Government has put fossil fuels at the top of its energy priorities. What should be at the top?
The Green Party has labelled a mistakenly-released Government energy strategy promoting coal and oil exploration as "19th century".
The strategy, Developing Our Energy Potential, puts exploring ''petroleum and mineral fuel'' reserves - essentially oil, gas and coal - ahead of investing in renewable power sources and new technologies.
The paper was apparently accidentally put into the public domain before being signed off by Cabinet, and is recent enough to have a foreword by Acting Energy and Resources Minister Hekia Parata. She took the portfolio on February 24 to allow Gerry Brownlee to concentrate solely on the Christchurch earthquake recovery.
"This strategy demonstrates how backwards-looking this Government is on energy. They clearly do not have a logical, coherent plan," said Greens energy spokesman Kennedy Graham.
"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.
"It's a short-sighted economic strategy that will ultimately impoverish New Zealand, and will undermine international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
"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."
Parata said that a final version of the strategy would be issued "later".
"The final mix will relate to the objectives we are balancing in terms of environmental management, sound economic direction and building a very solid base for our economy," she told Radio New Zealand.
New Zealand was on target to reach its goal of 90 percent renewable energy production, she said.
"We've achieved 74 percent of renewable energy which is the highest in 12 years."
Parata noted the most recent report from the International Energy Agency (IAE), released last week, had praised New Zealand's energy goals and the mix of energy sources currently in use.
"It commended New Zealand for our continued approach to achieving 90 percent of our needs through renewable energy."
In the foreword, Parata says New Zealand has an abundance of renewable energy sources, such as wind and hydro, and the Government was committed to developing them.
But it was also committed to exploring oil, gas and coal reserves which were worth hundreds of billions of dollars and could become major export earners.
''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.''
A section on developing energy resources says mineral fuel ''particularly coal and petroleum (oil and gas)'' are an important part of the energy picture and further exploration and extraction had the potential for a ''step change'' in economic growth.
''The immediate focus is on increasing exploration activity and on improving the knowledge of our petroleum basins.''
It says New Zealand's extensive coal resources could potentially contribute further to growth through the production of liquid fossil fuels, methanol or fertiliser.
Developing oil, gas and coal reserves was put ahead of increasing renewables, with new technologies ranked third.
The paper says any exploration and extraction would have ''rigorous'' controls to reduce risks to the environment.
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS DISAPPOINTED
WWF-New Zealand's climate change programme manager Peter Hardstaff said the strategy as presently written was "not fit for purpose".
"If this is the final version, it's deeply disappointing that the Government has failed to act on nearly 4000 submissions from the public, many of which called it to account for its emphasis on fossil fuel exploration and lack of ambition in the draft document [last year].
"Digging and drilling for more coal, oil and gas is applying a 19th century strategy to 21st century challenges.
"... real opportunities exist to build on New Zealand's significant renewable energy potential including wind, geothermal and home-grown biofuels. But without a strategy to promote them, these technologies won't develop fast enough. This leaves New Zealand out of being part of a viable economic and environmental solution to climate change and instead sees us contributing further greenhouse gas emissions to the problem."
Coal Action Network Aotearoa spokeswoman Frances Mountier said the paper was virtually identical to a draft document put out for consultation last year and, if implemented, would increase New Zealand's use and reliance on fossil fuels.
''The key underlying issue is that if we're extracting fossil fuels, we're going to be increasing our carbon emissions. You can't pretend that we're not.''
Mountier said the risks from exploring and extracting fossil fuels were too great, and the Government's priority should be to investigate renewable energy sources and new technologies.
''A lot of mining, a lot of deep sea oil drilling and the kind of energy extraction that's going on in the world these days is pushing into riskier and riskier territory, and that means greater costs for the environment and greater costs for workers and local communities.
''Our main concern is the focus on fossil fuels, indeed an increase in extraction of oil and lignite [coal] at a time when we should be reducing carbon emissions ... It's irresponsible.''
- MARTIN KAY/Stuff with NZPA
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