13 Jul 2018

Hydrogen energy: 'It looks like the face of the future'

11:47 am on 13 July 2018

The government has continued its charm offensive in Taranaki following its decision not to issue any new offshore oil and gas exploration permits.

Winston Peters.

Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters was in New Plymouth yesterday to announce funding for the development of hydrogen energy infrastructure in the province.

But some in the region say even more investment is required.

Mr Peters told civic, business and iwi leaders that he was aware the government's climate change policy had caused confusion and anxiety in Taranaki.

And he promised to do better in the future.

"It's our intention to make sure that it comes out with great clarity from here on in so no one is in any doubt of the critical role that Taranaki and its scientific advance when it comes to energy will play in the future.

"We know that this is the epicentre of that scientific knowledge."

Mr Peters then announced a grant of about $1 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to Taranaki company Hiringa Energy which aims to develop zero emission hydrogen transport fuel.

The money will be used to scope the engineering and design of two hydrogen generation facilities, up to four mobile compressed hydrogen storage and distribution containers, and up to three refuelling stations.

Mr Peters said hydrogen could be the fuel everyone was using years from now.

"It looks like the face of the future and will make us in that context an international leader.

"Again there's a lot of work required here but once it does go I think they'll be a time in the future where we'll look back at this moment and say 'thank God somebody thought about it' and not us but them.

"And they got assistance from central government."

Hiringa Energy chief executive Andrew Clennett said hydrogen had many applications and the potential to revolutionise the trucking industry.

"It's a very good method to take for example heavy transport and go to zero emissions. We can put hydrogen into heavy vehicles

"It's light and we can power fuel cells which make electricity from that and we can run those vehicles long distances and fill up the same time as it takes to fill up a diesel truck."

Hiringa Energy chief executive, Andrew Clennett.

Hiringa Energy chief executive, Andrew Clennett. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Clennett said the funding would give Hiringa a real boost.

"It will allow us to say we can deliver and connect the region with electric vehicles outside of the region so we'll look at a refuelling station somewhere else and that will show the range that hydrogen vehicles can go which is a key for regions like ourselves to unlock.

"But more than that it's really demonstrating a model that we think we can follow to roll out this technology out across the country."

Mr Clennett said Hiringa was piggy-backing off the oil and gas industry and it was cheaper to extract hydrogen from gas than from renewable energy sources, although not impossible.

The government has now pledged more than $21 million to Taranaki via the Provincial Growth Fund.

But New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom warned it was not enough to offset the loss of oil and gas activity.

"We've said we need to build a plan and these investments I suppose are the start of a plan but they are quite small numbers when you consider half a million dollars a day of Crown Mineral Royalties Taranaki produces for the government, but at the same time they're investing in capabilities that will grow over time."

Mr Holdom wondered what had happened to New Zealand First's policy of returning a proportion of Crown Mineral Royalties to the provinces.

Neil Holdom.

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Peters admitted that was a fair cop.

"He's got a point there. New Zealand First before the election was saying we are for the royalties for the regions, but if you don't get the percentage of votes you need for negotiating you have to concede somethings and we did.

"However we got $1 billion for the provinces which somewhat counter balances that."

Also announced yesterday was a $600,000 grant over three years to employ a transitional economy manager in Taranaki to help identify new economic opportunities in the province.

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