Call to ban industrial coal use in Nelson

5:20 pm on 6 November 2021

A climate action group are petitioning Nelson City Council to end industrial coal use in the region.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Stop the Coal Monster group spokesman Aaron Stallard said it wants to see no new consents issued for coal use, and existing consents ended by 2025.

The group was formed in March, and on Thursday Stallard and Joost van Rens presented a petition of more than 500 signatures to the Nelson City Council calling for an to end industrial coal use in the region.

Dr Stallard, who is a geologist, said coal use was the main cause of climate change and a leading cause of deaths globally.

"Coal is the worst of the worst of the fossils fuels and there needs to be no social license for using coal. It should be looked on unfavourably as the terrible pollutant and devastating thing that it is."

There are two industrial coal users in the region - Nelson Hospital and McCashin's Brewery, and the group had engaged in discussions with them. Both had some plans to become coal free, but ultimately needed support to do so.

"The questions are the financing, the timelines and how committed they are to that process, Stallard said

"Both of those users want to move away from coal, so if we get enough people on board and organisations like council to support those two users, hopefully we can make Nelson coal free."

With world leaders currently meeting at COP26 to tackle the climate crisis, Stallard said Nelson had the chance to also take a stand.

He said the council had been "slightly inconsistent" when it came to actioning its aspirational goals, but becoming coal free could be an "easy win".

"The energy for this and the intent is worldwide, so it should be a priority."

New Zealand has since joined two international pledges to phase out coal announced at the COP26 UN climate summit.

In the submission to council Dr Joost van Rens, a general practitioner, referred to research in The Lancet medical journal which found air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil was responsible for one in 10 deaths globally in 2018.

He said climate change was the biggest global health threats facing the world in the 21st century.

Nelson Hospital sign

Nelson Hospital Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The group had also been in contact with the Tasman District Council, which has a higher rate of industrial coal consumption.

Chair of the environment and climate committee Kate Fulton said while she endorsed both organisations moving away from coal use, the Huntly Power Station still burnt coal to provide electricity for Nelson, which would prevent the town from actually being coal-free.

Last year, Nelson Marlborough Health was granted $5 million to replace the "ageing, dirty coal-burning boilers" at Blenheim's Wairau Hospital with green alternatives.

In 2019, GP Dr Ngaire Warner asked the health board to end its use of coal at Nelson Hospital, citing health and environmental concerns.

The health board committed to a trial using wood pellets instead of coal at Nelson Hospital and installed a new burner on its gas boiler to decrease coal emissions.

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