Transparency and Truth will Win Lignite Debate


Solid Energy have money and the Government on their side but very little else and the closer one looks at the facts and the arguments the more obvious this becomes. The four days spent at the Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival made this crystal clear.

Solid Energy (as an SOE) are lucky to have a Government overseeing them with an energy strategy that promotes the exploitation of fossil fuels and the belief that mining (just about anything) will be the economic saviour of this country.  The National Government has had a long record of ignoring environmental advice and setting the balance between economics and sustainability heavily in favour of short term profits. The facts about the poor quality of lignite as an energy source are well documented, especially by our Environment Commissioner (Dr Jan Wright), and yet the projects continue to be supported.


The Coal Action Network of Aotearoa (CANA) is a growing national organisation dedicated to responsibly phasing out the use of coal in an attempt to save our planet from the crippling effects of climate change. It is does not have great financial resources but is supported by good science (and scientists) and much goodwill from its growing membership, including many professional groups. The organisation has a management team that includes the likes of Jeanette Fitzsimons and Tim Jones and since the beginning has been very open about its intentions and activities.

Jeanette Fitzsimons outside the site of the proposed briquette factory

While CANA has been very transparent, Solid Energy has done everything in its power to limit opposition and block public scrutiny. It has bought out most local farmers and has bought the silence of many local community groups through its financial support. SE successfully blocked public involvement in the establishment of their pilot briquette plant and was strangely able to claim that neighbouring farmers who have openly objected to the plant did not need to be notified because a tall chimney and the prevailing wind will protect them from any ill effects. It was also interesting that the two marquee tents  donated to our festival by the local branches of large companies had to be removed after pressure was applied to their national management. If Solid Energy can't engage in public debates they obviously intend to win by other means.

Sid Plant's presentation in the Mataura Community Centre

SE criticised the leaflet that I distributed amongst the local communities before Dr Hansen's talk by claiming it was spreading misinformation but refused to specify what that misinformation was or answer the list of questions I posed. Australian farmer, Sid Plant, described his experience of living next door to a coal mine in Victoria and, given the Government's eagerness to emulate Australian mining, he provides a clear warning about the realities of the industry. Sid convincingly described how the mining industry did not provide the jobs claimed, destroyed the local community and has not been able to restore the land back to  anything like the productive quality it was before. Nick Smith argued that New Zealand Lignite mining will be modeled on "best practice" but was not able to give an example of where a such a mine currently existed when challenged on this.

The current New Vale Mine which is only a fraction of the size of future mines

While Don Elder has claimed that there will be a demand for the briquettes, urea and diesel that can be produced from the lignite he has not been able to explain how the production of these can be managed cleanly or economically. The lignite briquettes are very fragile compared to those produced out of high quality coal and there are few proven markets for them. The processes for producing the urea and diesel will result in the release of huge amounts of carbon and the diesel will be of poor quality. Elder has suggested that the carbon emissions will be easily managed through capture and storage yet the technology to do so is limited and the suggestion of injecting the carbon into the Great South Basin is premature and laughable.

A lump of sun dried lignite found near the road outside the mine

This is a battle between corporate might and what is right and I'm sure science, the facts and common sense will win out in the end. The future of an exploited and fragile community, some of our most fertile soils and our next generations depend on it.

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