23 May 2016

An open letter to Minister for Climate Change Issues Paula Bennett cancel the dubious surplus units

In which I write to Paula Bennett and ask her to cancel the 124 million surplus emission units.

Paula Bennett's first act as the new Minister for Climate Change Issues was to announce that yes indeed New Zealand would be using creative carbon accounting and shuffling of dubious 'surplus' emissions units to meet the 2020 climate change target without actually reducing any emissions of greenhouse gases.

That approach became unstuck for Paula Bennett with the release of the Morgan Foundation's 'Climate Cheats' report.

Report author Geoff Simmons pretty convincingly put the case that if New Zealand has unethically benefited from buying dubious Ukrainian emission units, then Paula Bennett is ethically bound to cancel the remaining surplus units. I have heard no response, so I thought I would ask her myself. Hence this letter.

Hey why don't you write or email her too? Her email address is p.bennett@parliament.govt.nz

The Hon Paula Bennett
Minister for Climate Change Issues
Parliament Office
Private Bag 18888
Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160

23 May 2016

Your ethical duty to cancel 124 million surplus assigned amount units

Dear Minister,

I see that last Friday (20 May 2016) the Ministry for the Environment released New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2014 and the summary 'Snapshot'.

I see that in the Snapshot summary on Figure 5, page 5, that New Zealand is still intending to use 123.7 million emission units (Assigned Amount Units or 'AAUs') that were 'surplus' from the Kyoto Protocol first Commitment Period to meet the 2020 emissions reduction target and still have a surplus of 92.6 million units.

You are aware that the Morgan Foundation's report 'Climate Cheats' and the Stockholm Environment Institute report (Kollmuss, Schneider and Zhezherin 2015) set out a persuasive case that the 97 million Emission Reduction Units ('ERUs') that were imported to New Zealand were “questionable or of low environmental integrity”. Those ERUs were surrendered by NZETS participants into Crown holding accounts.

According to the Kyoto Protocol 'True-Up' Report, in December 2015, the Ministry for the Environment cancelled (transferred Crown-owned units to cancellation accounts) 373 million emission units to comply with the Kyoto Protocol. The numbers and types of units cancelled were: the 97 million imported ERUs, 16 million imported Certified Emission Reduction units ('CERs'), 81 million removal units ('RMUs'), and 179 million AAUs . The 'surplus' units remaining in Crown holding accounts were 124 million AAUs.

In a nutshell, the only reason New Zealand (the Crown) has so many 'surplus' AAUs is because of the inflow and use of the dubious ERUs in the NZETS. Each dubious imported ERU has allowed one additional AAU to be carried forward in a Crown holding account as a 'surplus' unit. Because the ERUs have no credibility, the AAUs no longer represent carbon safely stored out of the atmosphere. No emissions were reduced. Therefore to use these surplus AAUs to comply with the national 2020 emission reduction target is simply an exercise in creative carbon accounting. It is simply unethical.

I put it to you that as Minister for Climate Change Issues, you are morally obliged to cancel these surplus units owned by the Crown. Will you cancel the units? It may hopefully to some small extent restore New Zealand’s very tarnished reputation with respect to mitigating climate change policy.

Yours sincerely

21 May 2016

Helter smelter deja vu Tiwai Point smelter uncertainty stalls renewables for more Huntly coal

I look at how New Zealand Aluminium Smelter Limited is behind the Meridian/Genesis deal keeping the Huntly Thermal Power Station burning coal as the threat of closing the Tiwai Point smelter is stalling the construction of consented renewable energy projects. NB This post also features on Hot Topic.

My last post at Hot Topic was about energy companies Meridian and Genesis doing a deal to keep the Huntly Thermal Power Station open (and burning coal) for an extra four years.

My post really just noted how backwards the decision was in terms of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. And that the expected shut-down of Huntly represented the only predicted drop in energy emissions New Zealand had advised to the UNFCCC. And that reduction has just gone up in smoke.

However, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited and the Tiwai Point smelter have a malignant background role in the Huntly deal.

Meridian Energy said the deal was necessary to provide security of energy supply if the hydro lakes are low. That is only the case if the next 'cab off the rank' of renewable energy capacity is not built to replace Huntly. The generators don't want to build any new renewable capacity if the smelter closes and Meridian then releases cheaper Lake Manapouri hydro electricity onto the grid.

Hence helter smelter deja vu all over again.

The last time I blogged about the smelter was in late 2012, when the Government was rolling out the partial privatisation and float of Meridian Energy. New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited chose that moment to threaten to close the 'unprofitable' smelter and to demand cheaper electricity from Meridian.

For a re-cap of the issue, see this summary by Bryce Edwards as of April 2013. The conclusion was in August 2013 with a new (secret) power deal with Meridian with the Government putting in a $30 million subsidy on the promise of no plant closure before the end of 2017.

In terms of climate change policy, Gareth Renowden pointed out that the closure of the smelter would be a good thing.

Electricity prices would fall as Meridian's cheaper Manapouri hydro power would enter the wholesale electricity market. The most expensive generation, from coal and gas thermal plants (such as Huntly) would be forced out of the market by price. Electricity security would be better, as Lake Manapouri's storage would be available as a buffer for droughts instead of being committed to the smelter.

Cheaper power, less emissions, more renewables, more security. That sounds like the right strategy on a planet with a finite carbon budget consistent with no more than two degrees celsius of warming. What's not to like?

Now fast forward to April 2015. Meridian has been partially floated. New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited is yet again stating that its electricity transmission costs are too high and linking that to the smelter's future.

Board Chair Brian Cooper said

"No decision had been made about the future of the smelter, and we are doing everything we can to secure a long-term commercially competitive electricity price for the smelter."

So back to square one. New Zealand Aluminium Smelters saying yet again "Nice smelter, you got there. Shame if something happens to it". So who do they expect to give them a handout this time? Transpower, actually. The opportunity being the Electricity Authority's review of transmission costs, in which a draft proposal was expected to give New Zealand Aluminium Smelters a windfall of fifty million dollars.

I suppose I should not be surprised by this sort of business behaviour. However, I am more interested in the electricity demand implications of a smelter closure.

Belinda Storey of Pure Advantage says that the threats to close the smelter have made future predictions of electricity demand uncertain. And therefore

"Electricity companies have delayed investments in wind, solar, and geothermal energy while the Tiwai negotiations hold to ransom the forecasting of future demand."

In November 2015, Meridian CEO Mark Binns confirmed that new electricity investments had been stalled by the possibility of the smelter closing

"because nobody wants to build a new plant if Tiwai Point can go on 12 months notice".

In December 2015, Binns confirmed to Fairfax's Tom Pullar-Strecker that a smelter shut-down would release about 1.15GW of electricity, which would drop wholesale electricity prices and that none of the generators wanted to build the power station that would stop first when electricity demand dropped below supply. Binns even said

"No-one wants to spend a lot of money and have a stranded asset".

So, in 2016, in New Zealand's electricity market, renewable electricity projects will be stranded assets. Pretty much because of New Zealand Aluminium Smelter Limited's preferred mode of corporate behaviour.

The only thing more bizarre are the completely contradictory media releases from Energy Minister Simon Bridges.

In August 2015, Bridges was celebrating the 2018 Huntly closure as 'creating renewable opportunities'. In April 2016, Bridges commended the reversal of the Huntly closure as a 'transition' 'down the path of greater renewable generation'.

Is there no use of fossil fuels that Bridges won't describe as 'transitional'? Is there any other explanation for Bridges' contradictory statements than the assumption that he is a complete political weather vane when it comes to policy?


From that last no doubt factual comment of Mark Binns, we enter a "Bizarro World" of contradiction and ridiculousness. In the rest of the world, Nicholas Stern and Mark Carney and Carbon Tracker have laid out the case that coal, oil and gas reserves are stranded assets. But in New Zealand, it is new renewable electricity generation that will be stranded assets.

All because of consistently unethical behaviour by one trans-national company. And the Minister of Energy views the situation as within his very elastic definition of 'transition' and is happy to leave direction of the market to the partially privatised generating industry. Never mind carbon budgets and the Paris Agreement.

01 May 2016

The Huntly power station decision - projected energy emission reductions to 2020 up in coal smoke

The decision to keep the Huntly coal thermal power station open for another four years is not only contrary to all New Zealand's commitments and climate targets, it also sends the Ministry for the Environment's projections of stabilising energy emissions to 2020 up in a cloud of coal smoke. NB this post is also features on Hot Topic.

We seem to have had an extra dose of announcements and activities about climate change in an action-packed month of April.

We have had our Minister, Paula Bennett, signing the UN Paris Agreement. The Morgan Foundation's "Climate Cheats" report made a big splash. That lead to Jack Tame's grilling interview of Paula Bennett. Then the Royal Society of New Zealand released two major reports on climate change; one on impacts and another on policy responses. The business-backed Pure Advantage group released a report on enhancing forestry sequestration.

So what did the New Zealand energy industry do to elbow it's way into the climate change spotlight? How do you beat signing the Paris Agreement or compete with climate fraud?

Well, you just say you are going to burn more coal!

On 28th April 2016, Genesis Energy and Meridian Energy announced they had reached an 'arrangement' that would keep the coal-burning Huntly thermal power station open for an extra four years. This deal postpones the expected shut down from the planned 2018 date to 2022.

Patrick Smellie notes two interesting details of the story. First, the irony that the "100% renewable" generator Meridian Energy has led the process of negotiating with Genesis. And second, that the public announcement of the shut-down by Genesis was just 'code' for negotiating a higher price from other generators.

The Green Party's Gareth Hughes points out that on the basis of Huntly's generation of 1,277 GWh of energy in 2015, the closing of Huntly would have lifted New Zealand's proportion of renewable electricity generation from 79.9 percent to 84.5 percent. So unsurprisingly the Meridian-Genesis deal is just 180 degrees in the wrong direction in terms of the 90 percent renewable target and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace has given us ten reasons to shut Huntly and have started an on-line petition to keep to the plan and shut Huntly.

But what effect will this have on the Ministry for the Environment's projections of energy emissions out to 2030? These are part of the December 2015 report "NZ’s Second Biennial Report under the UNFCCC". This chart shows projected "with measures" emissions and "without measures" (i.e. business as usual).

In the chart, the projected "with measure" emissions for each sector are the circles and lines. The projected 'business as usual'/'without measures' emissions are the lines between the data points marked by triangles on 2020 and 2030. That's because the without measures projections are for only two years! It is almost as if they are an after-thought.

The other thing to note is that for agriculture, transport and industry, there is no difference between "with measures" and "without" projections. This is of course because the Ministry is reflecting the Government's intention to exempt those three sectors of the economy from any climate change policy.

However, have a close look at the energy sector projections. There is some 'daylight' visible between the 'with' and 'without' projections. The "without" trends ever so slightly upward and the "with" trend is a plateauing. So something is expected to change the slight upward emissions trend to a plateau. The Biennial Report states on page 39;

"Energy emissions are expected to increase between 2013 and 2015, but then fall between 2015 and 2020. The remaining coal-fired power plant in New Zealand is expected to be decommissioned by 2018, reducing emissions from coal. Coal-fired electricity generation is expected to be replaced mainly by a combination of hydroelectricity, geothermal, wind, and gas-fired peaking plants in the modelled scenario".

In other words, the 'something' was the closing of Huntly. The Ministry for the Environment was relying on Genesis Energy to honour its public statement that it was closing Huntly. Which of course would then be attributed to the New Zealand emissions trading scheme. However it looks like the projections are now out-dated.


The 2030 emissions projections show that New Zealand's climate change policies are intentionally not affecting three out of five sectors of the economy. Now with two power generators reaching a private agreement to keep an non competitive asset, Huntly thermal power station, emitting for four extra years, the projected savings in energy emissions out to 2030 have gone up in a puff of coal smoke.