6 May 2022

All coal boilers in NZ schools to be gone by 2025 as $23m in emission reduction projects get green light

3:45 pm on 6 May 2022

All remaining coal boilers in New Zealand schools will be replaced with cleaner wood burners or electric heating by 2025, at a cost of $10 million, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

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Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The coal boiler removal is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 35,400 tonnes over 10 years, the equivalent of removing about 1400 cars from the roads.

It is part of the latest spend from the $220m State Sector Decarbonisation Fund, with a further $12.92m going to other projects.

Speaking after a visit to Waiuku School in Auckland, Ardern said New Zealand needed to modernise its infrastructure, and coal boilers had no place in its future.

"That's a really important milestone. I think it's incredibly important that we as a govt do our bit by removing fossil fuels from the state sector, and what better place to make sure we're doing that than in the education facilities where young people are driving us to take climate action."

She said she had been surprised at the cost of removing and replacing the coal boilers, and there were often associated problems including asbestos removal.

Grassroots climate action group 350 Aotearoa executive director Alva Feldmeier said the announcement was a welcome step in the right direction, but in the larger picture it was insignificant.

"I don't want to put it down, I think this is a huge win for our movement ... but it doesn't really scratch the surface."

"Coal boilers are actually the least number of boilers we have in schools or even the entire state sector, so we've still got around 900 schools burning alternative fossil fuels, most of them gas and also some that are oil and diesel ones."

She said the announcement today also did not include some of the biggest emitters in the state sector, including Auckland DHBs and Victoria University which consumed considerably more fossil fuels than all the schools announced today, combined.

She was hopeful of more funding being announced for emissions reduction in the Budget this month, and was looking towards the Emissions Reduction Plan coming out the same day.

"This is a win for the people but we are expecting the government to do more."

Other projects from latest funding round

Other projects include purchasing charging infrastructure and 395 electric vehicles (EVs), bringing the total number of EVs co-funded since the fund's establishment to 978.

It would deliver 169 EVs for Kāinga Ora, 111 for the Ministry of Social Development, 45 for NZ Police, 24 for Corrections, 20 for Bay of Plenty DHB, 18 for WorkSafe, two for TVNZ, two for Lincoln University, two for Landcare Research, and two for Wairarapa DHB.

Importing EVs for use in the public sector would in future also make them available for second-hand sales, Ardern said.

"At the moment there is a high upfront cost. Two things we can do is that we can help bring down that upfront cost, and you'll see that with the rebate scheme ... but then trying to encourage people to look at the lifetime cost of a vehicle because ultimately an EV is better on your pocket and for the environment. We just need to support people to take that first step."

Heating system improvements were also being brought in for Papakura Police Station and Wellington Hospital; a diesel boiler at the Mental Health Unit at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde will be replaced with a heat pump, two gas boilers at a University of Waikato student village in Hamilton will be replaced, and more efficient lighting will be installed at Palmerston North Hospital and Northland Polytechnic.

All up, the $22.92m spend is expected to reduce emissions by about 4929.4 tonnes every year. The Northland Polytechnic upgrade is also expected to save more than $14,000 a year in energy costs.

Climate Minister James Shaw said the Coal Boiler Replacement Programme had previously prioritised the oldest and least efficient boilers, "but today's commitment is a major expansion of the programme, and means that all 180 schools with coal boilers will be in a position to prioritise the transition to clean energy".

Energy Minister Megan Woods said it showed the government meant business when it came to cutting emissions and creating jobs for future generations.

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