James Rus­sell El­e­ment edi­tor

Element - - Contents -

There’s two ways the coal in­dus­try can go. Down at a con­trolled pace, or down in a se­ries of busts and mod­er­ate re­cov­er­ies. But, as the big­gest cul­prit in cli­mate change, down it must go.

Glob­ally, even­tual ac­tion on emis­sions will strand fos­sil fuel as­sets by as­sign­ing them a true car­bon price, ren­der­ing them too ex­pen­sive. But the re­verse ap­pears to be true for coal, with cur­rent low prices prompt­ing an early strand­ing. It caused the bru­tal loss of 500 Solid En­ergy jobs here. Only 1500-odd jobs now re­main in the NZ coal in­dus­try.

The hardy folk of the Orkney Is­lands de­pended on the lo­cal fos­sil fu­els since Norse times. But just as the peat be­gan to run out in the late 60s, oil was dis­cov­ered in the North Sea, re-in­vig­o­rat­ing the econ­omy. Re­al­is­ing that, too, must come to an end, the Or­ca­di­ans be­gan a three-decade green revo­lu­tion which now sees them at the global fore­front of wave and tidal re­new­able en­ergy tech­nolo­gies.

These kinds of things can hap­pen in our own coal towns, most of which cur­rently have lower than av­er­age in­come lev­els than the re­gion at large.

NZ uses coal for elec­tric­ity, dairy pro­cess­ing , agri­cul­ture and heat­ing. All of these can be re­placed with re­new­able al­ter­na­tives, and rel­a­tively quickly. More dif­fi­cult is sub­sti­tut­ing the coal used in mak­ing steel, but even that’s pos­si­ble. Blen­heim busi­ness Car­bonS­cape can turn waste wood into car­bon-zero ‘green coke’, and al­ready has a con­tract with NZ Steel. All it needs is the fi­nan­cial means.

Coal must go. The ex­cit­ing thing is fig­ur­ing out what we can re­place it with.

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