The Government is being challenged on its spending on renewable energy after the revelation that coal imports last year passed a point not seen in New Zealand in 15 years.
Newly released data shows close to 1.1 million tonnes of coal was imported into New Zealand last year.
That's higher than the total of coal imports for 2017 and 2018 combined.
It's also the most coal shipped into New Zealand in any year since 2006, according to new data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
The Act Party has put the blame for the increase squarely in the lap of the Government.
Its climate-change spokesman, Simon Court, said if the Government had not banned the exploration for natural gas three years ago, New Zealand wouldn't need so much foreign coal.
Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman says the data shows the Government needs to get serious about its renewable energy spending.
But Energy Minister Megan Woods is defending the import statistics.
She told the Herald that declining gas production and warmer weather – which impacts hydro energy production – have led to higher than usual coal imports.
She said that this very issue was exactly why the Government was looking to spend more money on pumped hydro projects.
In the same year New Zealand was importing record levels of coal, the Government made a number of moves to reduce the use of coal within the country.
In February last year, the purchasing of new coal-fuelled fireplaces was banned in a bid to improve New Zealand's overall air quality.
The month before that, the Government announced it would spend $4.8m on replacing old coal boilers in schools with more-energy-efficient alternatives.
And in December last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared a climate change emergency.
Meanwhile, coal imports into New Zealand that very same month were 41 per cent higher than they were in December 2019.
"The Government's marketing-led environmentalism has been mugged by scientific reality," Court said.
He added that the 2018 ban on energy companies exploring for natural gas has caused the spike in coal imports.
"Our trading partners have reduced emissions by using natural gas and turning off old coal-fired power stations and industrial heating.
"But no one is interested in finding new gas reserves here due to the Government's ban on new exploration."
But Woods pushed back on this claim, saying that it was "utterly false" and was debunked during the election campaign last year.
"It is a market response to current conditions," she said.
Although gas production in New Zealand was down last year, quarterly energy data from MBIE showed that there was actually a slight uptick in the amount of gas used to power electricity last year.
Woods said lower than usual hydro-powered energy – as a result of warm, dry conditions impacting hydro lake inflows – forced electricity providers to use more coal last year.
Another factor was: "declining gas production at the Pohokura gas field".
Norman said the reason for the increased use of coal in 2020 shows why the Government needs to spend more money on renewable energy sources.
"Otherwise we end up relying on coal and gas to pick up the load, which is what happened in 2020 and 2019."
But Woods said the Government already has plans to spend more money in this area.
She said the higher than usual coal imports last year highlights the importance of the Government's NZ Battery project – a feasibility study focused on addressing the "dry year" problems that lead to coal having to be used as an energy source.
At the moment, the Government is looking into this project and how it would work.
But before the election, Labour mooted spending $4 billion on the Onslow project, which would create the country's biggest hydro storage lake with an estimated 5,000 gigawatt-hours of power production.