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How to run a Carbon Neutral Power Company - today.
Craig Neilson, 26 Mar 08
Article Photo

The company that generates the largest proportion of New Zealand's electricity has been certified carbon neutral for more than a year.

Meridian Energy generates around a third of New Zealand's total energy demand (approx 12,000 GWh) exclusively from wind and hydro sources. The company has a history of advocating a carbon credit marketplace.

But not all New Zealand state-owned enterprises can boast the same carbon neutral certification.

Solid Energy is the largest coal mining company in New Zealand, and also state owned. It's the company, I'm ashamed to say, that dig up and export New Zealand's coal to be burned in China - and the ones that intend to create a new open cast mine in Happy Valley.

The Kyoto Protocol is blind to coal that is shipped overseas to be burned by other countries, a loophole that means New Zealand will not be judged on this activity when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Certainly an improvement to make for the treaty's successor.

Both of these energy companies are owned by all citizens of New Zealand, but only one offers citizens a direct feedback system by paying custom. Meridian Energy can be encouraged by New Zealanders joining up and using all the guilt-free power they can afford. Solid Energy needs a constant flow of letters, political pressure, and more direct action like long protest walks or occupying intended mining sites.

My challenge is for Solid Energy to follow its state-owned sister company Meridian and become carbon neutral. The carbon accounting must factor the use of the coal - ie. burning it - when it is shipped overseas.

Before you say "it's not going to happen" - remember that there's barely 160 years worth of coal left at the speed the world is presently using it. There's a growing rate of carbon neutral certified companies, a government-owned accreditor, a raising awareness of climate change and mounting pressure for every company to show some level of environmental responsibility. There's some chance in the next few years that carbon neutrality becomes mandatory, and a higher chance for government departments and state owned enterprises.

The process Solid Energy would take is the same as the path taken by Meridian Energy, Christchurch International Airport and any other company certified by the CarboNZero program.

1. Calculate greenhouse gas emissions
2. Reduce emissions with an emissions reduction plan
3. Offset remaining emissions through buying carbon credits.

1. Calculate greenhouse gas emissions
Meridian Energy had a serious advantage in its certification: the hydroelectric power stations it relies on for the vast majority of electricity supply were already built.

The energy required to harness raging rivers is immense, and the construction process is environmentally destructive too. The downstream environment takes time to adapt to the general fall in river levels and may never fully recover.

The Manapouri station, New Zealand's biggest hydroelectric plant, was an environmentally controversial endeavour that today supplies 4800 GWh of carbon-neutral electricity. What was unpopular with environmentalists in the 1960's is now an example of "how it should be done" (this is also an example I use when explaining that carbon neutrality and the bright green future are not something "instantly" available - and that there will be an environmental cost associated with getting there).

Solid Energy is another story - the problem is not lack of infrastructure but unsustainable and environmentally irresponsible business practices. The calculation process would need to cover extraction of coal and the eventual use of their product, be that in China or any other country.My guess is that the bill comes in pretty high.


2. Reduce emissions with an emissions reduction plan

This step is stressed by CarboNZero to be the most important aspect of the program. And so it should be - actual reductions are clearly superior to merely buying offset credits.


3. Offset remaining emissions through buying carbon credits.

This final step is the motivating factor for most businesses - the bill for emissions that have not been reduced to zero.

Solid Energy's emissions bill may be so high that it fosters new growth in the carbon credits market. This is a Good Thing - and something the state should certainly encourage.


Image: Manapouri Power Station from the Wikimedia Project.

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Comments

March 27h, 2008

Dear Sir:

At your next earliest convenience could you please send me more info on your society.
Ray R. Nabie-Turner
Canada Carbon Neutral Society
Suite #11, 608 - 1oth Street
New Westminster, B.C. V3M 3Z7


Posted by: Ray R. Nabie-Turner on 28 Mar 08

Cheers Ray, you can get in touch with them here.

I've left a message with them for you too.


Posted by: Craig Neilson on 30 Mar 08



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