Power in NZ on the Rim of Fire

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It is time to think carefully about the future of coal and oil-fired power stations in the NZ power-supply portfolio.   New Zealand has a lot of choices for power generation, renewable and non-renewable.  The renewables we have include hydro, geothermal and even the most expensive and unreliable of all renewable sources, wind.  We also have coal and gas-fired thermal stations.

We need them all.  Our capacity can be crippled by earthquakes at any time, and we would be foolish indeed not to  be prepared.

2503 MW of NZ’s electric power capacity is provided by dams built along the Southern Alps, which exist because of the great alpine fault in the South Island.  They provide reliable, renewable power, but they are at risk if (when) the really big earthquake strikes.  The recent Christchurch earthquake tragedy that has befallen New Zealand is a reminder of what is just around the corner, and when that happens a large proportion of our power supply will be severely compromised, if not destroyed.

NZ’s biggest thermal plant, with a capacity of 1448 MW, is at Huntly in the North Island.   It is run by Genesis Energy.  Here is the information from Genesis:


And here is the Wikipedia information about the site:


According to the Wikipedia entry, there are plans to emasculate the Huntly facility, shutting down much of its capability and reducing it to a backup role.  The entry says:

“The plant, as one of the biggest carbon dioxide greenhouse gas generators of the country, contributing over half of New Zealand’s emissions of greenhouse gases from electricity generation, has repeatedly drawn the ire of environmentalists and has been the focus of associated protests. A 2006 government report outlining future anti-climate change and energy policies was seen by the operator as a sign that the plant might have to be closed by 2015 under these plans, with around 10 years of design life still remaining.

Resource consents to operate the four coal fired units expire in 2013.  Due to increasing costs of coal, equipment reaching its design life and costs due to the emissions trading scheme, operation of the four steam units is expected to be phased out, with their role declining to dry year, reserve generation. One of the four coal fired units will be taken out of service in 2012, and a second in 2015.”

I don’t know how much of what the Wikipedia article says about the capacity reduction is true.  I hope it is not, and that the plant will continue to operate.  It is one thing to aim to maximise power generation from renewable sources, especially reliable and high-producing ones like hydroelectric and geothermal sources.

Relying totally on renewable energy resources is quite another matter, especially when they are at risk.  And given our position on the Pacific rim of fire, those resources certainly are at risk.  More than most countries, we need considerable redundancy and diversity of power supply.  Failure to build more fuelled thermal power plants would be as foolish as failing to to take advantage of our hydroelectric and geothermal opportunities.  Removal of existing thermal capacity years before the end of its design life would be more than foolish.

It would be criminally stupid.

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