James Russell Element editor
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.