Coal plant project stirs up New Zealand

Plans to build New Zealand's first coal-burning power plant for a quarter century are coming up against strong opposition from environmentalists, who argue the country should tap into its massive wind power potential instead.

The state-owned energy company behind the project, Mighty River, has been fighting it out in court with environmental group Greenpeace, who argue against the plant on the grounds that it would go against New Zealand’s climate policy.

Greenpeace campaigner Vanessa Atkinson said: “This is a test case on climate change in New Zealand. It would be a disaster in terms of our nation’s response to the greatest threat facing the planet – climate change, if the first major coal-fired power station in this country in 25 years could go ahead without any consideration of its effects on climate change at any stage in the decision making process.”

In the latest development in the high profile case, Greenpeace has appealed to New Zealand’s high court against the decision of the Environment Court which ruled against the environmental NGO. The power company hit back at Greenpeace by asking it to pay its legal expenses, which amount to $140,000.

The importance of the Marsden B case is amplified by an on-going review of New Zealand’s climate change policies, as the government considers a bill that calls for measures in this area to be taken on a regional as well as national level.

Greenpeace has expressed its support for the bill, and sees the Marsden B project as counter-productive, as it calculates that the plant would release an annual 2.17m tonnes of CO2 as well as polluting the environment with mercury, dioxins and sulphur.

“What we need now are policies to lower our emissions, encourage renewable technology such as wind farms, stop climate-polluting power sources such as Marsden B, phase out coal and increase energy efficiency to lead us to a 100% renewable electricity sector,” said Vanessa Atkinson.

Mighty River argues that Marsden B is needed to “reduce the electricity security risk associated with New Zealand’s exposure to dry weather conditions with its high proportion of hydro power.” The company is currently also developing a wind energy project.

Goska Romanowicz

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