New Zealand’s coal use plummets to 32-year low

Coal use

Coal use in New Zealand is plummeting, new Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) data shows.

Less coal was burned in the last three months of 2022 than in any quarter since December 1990.

In the September 2022 quarter, 426,000 tonnes of coal was burned for industry, process heat and electricity generation. This rose slightly to 437,000 tonnes in the last three months of the year.

Those are the lowest levels recorded since March 1989 and December 1990.

Climate change

The latest statistics show the Government is serious about climate change. They also show its plan to reduce demand for coal for process heat and electricity generation is working, Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods says.

“It shows that New Zealanders don’t want dirty, polluting and expensive coal either, and are turning to renewables when they can.”

Climate Change Minister James Shaw wants the transition away from fossil fuels to speed up.

“If anyone needed a basic rule of thumb for dealing with the climate crisis, it would be this: stop burning fossil fuels.

“It will be clear to anyone that we’re better off if we’re burning less coal. That most harmful of fuels that we’ve used since the industrial revolution began. Clearly, we are making progress, but the pace of change needs to pick up until we can end our reliance on fossil fuels, including coal, forever.”

Demand drives change

The slump in coal use was led by a reduction in the amount burned for power.

In the midst of winter 2021, when hydro lake levels ran low, the country burned about 600,000 tonnes of coal. That kept electricity running for three months.

This changed dramatically last year. In the last quarter of 2022, just 4,500 tonnes were used for electricity generation. That was the second lowest level across 33 years of records.

The was further aided by a reduction in the amount of coal burned for industry (including milk drying) and coal transformed during steel production.

Woods says the decline in coal-fired power was accompanied by a surge in renewable electricity.

“The renewable share of electricity generation was at its highest level on record for the December 2022 quarter. Electricity generation from wind was the highest on record in the December 2022 quarter, with the wind farm at Turitea North now fully online.

“Electricity generation from wind was up 7.1 percent during the September 2022 quarter and 1.1 percent during the December quarter compared to the same quarters in 2021. Wind generation continues to increase as more wind farms are built.”

Coal production from mines in New Zealand also fell last year to the lowest levels since 1990. At the same time, coal imports in the December quarter were at their lowest since 2013.


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