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New Zealand marks end to coal power

Last two coal power plants in the country to be decommissioned in 2018.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Aug. 6, 2015 at 8:38 AM
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Coal-fired power is coming to an end in New Zealand as the country focuses on taking the global pole position in renewables, the energy minister said.

"Historically coal has played an important role in ensuring the security of New Zealand's electricity supply, particularly in dry years where our hydro-lake levels are low," New Zealand Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said in a statement. "But significant market investment in other forms of renewable energy in recent years, particularly in geothermal, means that a coal backstop is becoming less of a requirement."

Utility Genesis Energy said Thursday it's on pace to shut down its last two coal-fired power plants by December 2018, effectively marking the end of coal power in New Zealand.

The company said changing market conditions for electricity means coal power is no longer needed. Genesis Chief Executive Officer Albert Brantley said the development of lower cost renewable options, "principally wind and geothermal," coupled with low demand, spells the end to coal.

The share of electricity generated from renewable resources in New Zealand last year was 79.9 percent, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. The government attributed the rise to the growth in geothermal generation, which more than doubled nationally, in the last decade.

U.S. President Barack Obama this week embraced the final version of a Clean Power Plan, outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency last year. It sets a goal of cutting emissions of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, by 32 percent of their 2005 baseline by 2030, 9 percent more than in the original proposal, largely through tighter scrutiny of coal power.

Governors in states dependent on coal, and those in the U.S. mining industry, threatened legal action in response to tighter greenhouse gas rules unveiled by the Obama administration.

The New Zealand government said the global renewable energy sector is expected to draw $7 trillion in private sector investments by 2030. In the past six years, investments in New Zealand have totaled $1.5 billion.

"New Zealand's share of renewable electricity generation is already the fourth largest in the world and the shift from coal will help us to achieve our ambitious goal of having 90 percent of New Zealand's electricity supply generated by renewables by 2025," Bridges said.

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