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Dear Hekia,

I’m sure you and your government colleagues will be pretty annoyed about the early and unexpected release of the revised (but not) ‘New Zealand Energy Strategy‘.

But, as the acting Minister of Energy and Resources, it actually presents you with an opportunity to make a bit of a mark.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore for more oil and coal; but as we both know burning these very old plants simply adds to the carbon dioxide that’s slowly warming our planet. It’s not sustainable, even if dressed up around the notion that everyone else is doing it.

And I’m sure that following the dictum of ‘follow the money’, oil and coal exploration will have the majority of funds thrown its way.

Looking at the Energy Strategy’s areas of focus 2 & 3 (develop renewable energy resources, embrace new energy technologies), what about making sure a bit of that oil and coal money goes to New Zealand’s golden opportunity.

For the fact is, we’re talking about the wise use of resources. Well Minister, 20% of our forestry crop is literally thrown away, left to rot. Those branches and offcuts from the main log are something we wouldn’t have to explore for, wouldn’t have to drill to get, wouldn’t have to obtain resource consent to use.

Knowledgeable visitors to our country are blown away by our potential around bioenergy. We have a fantastic opportunity to hugely grow the potential of forestry and short rotation crops as both direct energy sources and as the feedstock for transport fuels.

Given our relatively low population and ability to directly harvest the sun through such crops we could easily provide at least 25% of our transport fuel needs through bioenergy by 2040. (See the Bioenergy Association of NZ strategy here). And that’s a conservative figure. Crown Research Institute Scion reckons we could actually achieve 100%.

And that’s just the potential of converting the lignin and cellulose into transport fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol.

Now one of the little secrets of the oil industry is that the most valuable component of crude is the high value feedstocks for plastics and chemicals.

Guess what. Those valuable ‘bits’ exist in living trees as well, and companies such as Taupo based Vertichem have developed ways to extract them, and are looking to scale up its production.

What it means is we, as in NZ Inc, have an opportunity to develop bioenergy and green chemistry industries.

And, if you really want to really want another selling point, some of the under-utilised Maori land would be perfect for growing such crops and providing an income base.

So, what about diverting just a small amount of the Energy Strategy money earmarked for oil and coal and put it into bioenergy.

There’s too many pluses not to look at it more closely, and lots of advantages for New Zealand, the world and our children in giving it a go.

NZTE is leading a delegation to Canada in May to look at how that country has put together a bioenergy strategy. If its good enough for Canadians to develop a major strategy around bioenergy, isn’t that a pretty good reason to have a closer look at in New Zealand?

I’m sure the the bioenergy industry and officials would love you to join the trip Minister.

The oil and coal industries wouldn’t even notice you’d used a bit of their allocated budget!