15 Feb 2019

Taranaki transition: 'There will be new forms of energy'

11:28 am on 15 February 2019

Oil and gas executives rubbed shoulders with environmental activists in New Plymouth yesterday at a workshop designed to help create a roadmap for Taranaki's transition to a low-emissions economy by 2050.

The BOSS jack up rig heads out to the Pohokura platforrm for a three-month well-intervention and maintenance programme. after being blessed by local hapu.

Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

It is one of 23 such workshops planned ahead of a Just Transition Summit which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to attend in the city in May.

Motivated by the government's decision to end offshore oil and gas exploration, the Taranaki 2050 Transition Roadmap is being put together by the region's development agency, Venture Taranaki, in conjunction with the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.

Workshops will cover 12 broad categories including energy, food and fibre, tourism, the Māori economy and people.

The schedule kicked-off yesterday with the first of three energy workshops in New Plymouth and Food and Fibre hui in Hawera.

Venture Taranaki general manager transitional economy, Justine Gilliland, said Taranaki 2050 was about the province taking ownership of the transition to a low-emissions economy.

"We're going on a journey here. Nothing is going to shut down tomorrow. It's about how we make that transition over time and there will be new forms of energy we will be able to invest in.

"We've got amazing skills and depth in Taranaki that we can draw on to actually help New Zealand make that transition."

Ms Gilliland, whose role was being paid for out of the Regional Growth Fund, said Taranaki had the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past.

"It means making a transition in a way that is just for everybody.

"What we don't want are transitions you saw perhaps in the 1980s in the UK with the closures of the mines or even that we've seen in our own communities, for example, with the closures of the freezing works."

Yesterday's workshop involved brainstorming and frank exchanges on how people saw energy use in New Zealand in 2050.

RNZ was not allowed to report on the workshop while it was in progress, but at its conclusion most people said it had been a worthwhile exercise.

Taranaki Instrument Services business manager Chris Watson contracts to the oil and gas sector.

"To be fair I thought it was going to be a bit airy fairy and wishy washy, but actually it was well structured and well thought out."

Contact Energy's David Buckrell was not sure what he could take away from the workshop.

Mr Buckrell said gas had underwritten New Zealand manufacturing sector for 30 years and had an important role in electricity generation.

He was not convinced it was time to begin phasing it out.

"Thermal generation generally has a very important role as back up for the intermittency of renewables so you can get very high levels of renewable electricity but you still need thermal back up and gas is part of that mix - and it is much better than coal.

"So it's very important that gas supply continues and that we have some kind of certainty around gas supply."

Project engineer at hydrogen start-up Heringa Energy, CJ Lepper, said he did not even know what problems we would face in 30 years' time.

Mr Lepper said it was about developing the right mindset to tackle them.

"It's about creating a society or the thought of adaptability and resilience so it doesn't matter what the problem is or what the issue is in the future, we've got this ingrained thought process that we can adapt wherever necessary."

Climate Justice Taranaki member Emily Bailey said while it was great to talk face-to-face with industry insiders, she still had reservations about the workshops.

"Most of the people here are from industry. Some people are getting paid to be here but a lot of us have to go away to our jobs and can't be here so there's a certain part of society that gets to participate and certain part that doesn't."

The Taranaki 2050 Transition Roadmap will be discussed at the two-day Just Transition Summit in May.