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Elder bridles at US academic’s 'immoral' coal claim

Elder bridles at US academic’s 'immoral' coal claim

By Pattrick Smellie

May 17 (BusinessDesk) – A visiting American academic’s description of Solid Energy Ltd.’s plans to make fertiliser and diesel from vast lignite coal fields in Southland provided a rare spark of anger from the state-owned coal miner’s chief executive, Don Elder, at a seminar in Wellington.

Dr James Hansen, a climate change expert from Columbia University told an Institute of Policy Studies seminar on the future of coal that lignite was a bad option for New Zealand, which has strongly rising greenhouse gas emissions at a time when reduced emissions were the government’s goal.

“To add lignite into the story makes it totally unacceptable from a moral standpoint,” said Hansen, who insists he is “even tougher” on the heavy use of coal made by the far wealthier and energy-intensive U.S. economy.

The comment during a panel discussion baited Elder, who shot back it was “inappropriate to come here and say it’s immoral.”

In a defence of Solid’s lignite plans, which he says would have to work without free carbon credits and would seek a “net positive environmental effect”, Elder said New Zealand would still import urea and diesel from other countries if it didn’t make it here, and that transporting those goods would increase global carbon emissions.

“We need to discuss whether it’s low global emissions or feeling good about low New Zealand emissions, where we penalise ourselves with a heroic position that nobody else takes, that’s neither a good economic choice nor necessarily a good environmental choice,” Elder said.

He made it clear Solid Energy did not expect to be able to capture and store all the carbon emissions that such projects would create, and would be looking to offset programmes in New Zealand and potentially offshore.

A presentation from GNS Science’s Rob Funnell showed land-based underground storage options for carbon dioxide, such as depleted oil and gas fields or aquifers were limited in the Southland region. While there could be reservoirs at the Solander and Great South basins off the Southland coast, they were so far lightly explored.

“Either I’ve got the aquifer (for carbon storage) or I haven’t and if I haven’t, you’re stuffed, you can’t do it,” Elder said.

Elder also took stick from former Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who asked why Solid Energy had sought non-notified resource consents for its proposed domestic briquetting plant, also using Southland lignite, and stopping public debate on the proposal.

However, the process was already common with “between 10 and 30 boilers in Southland consented to do the same thing,” he said.

Briquetting involves squeezing the moisture out of the low-grade lignite, making it lighter to transport and easier to burn.

“It’s a briquetting plant, not a liquid-to-fuels plant. Why should we go through a different process?” said Elder, who claimed Environment Southland had refused to grant objectors from outside the region “affected party” status.


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