Hospitals, schools and decarbonisation: The overshadowed parts of Government's spend-up

The Government's $8 billion spend on transport across New Zealand has captured the country's attention - but the announcement also included a boost for health facilities and decarbonisation projects. 

The New Zealand Upgrade Programme - as it's been labelled - includes up to $10 million for projects to decarbonise state-run hospitals and schools, and a $300 million capital investment in health facilities. 

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said eight schools and two hospitals will receive support so they can upgrade to run on clean energy, whereby coal boilers used for heating will be replaced with biomass boilers. 

"Many of our schools have old, dirty, climate-polluting boilers that in most cases were installed in the 1950s and 1960s," Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party, said. 

"Because of our support, current and future generations of kids will be kept warm at school by clean energy as we help them upgrade to using biomass instead of coal."

Biomass heating systems generate heat by combusting wood pellets. The process is seen as essentially carbon neutral, because the carbon dioxide released during the combustion was absorbed while the tree was growing. 

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority explains: "Wood energy is carbon neutral as the carbon released by burning wood is equal to the carbon absorbed by trees during growth. 

"Wood energy is a form of bioenergy. Bioenergy is energy from the sun which is captured in organic material such as wood, crops or animal waste."

It follows the $400 million in funding announced by Education Minister Chris Hipkins before the end of last year for state schools to invest in infrastructure. 

Energy Minister Megan Woods said the rollout is a "major expansion of the Government's work to move our economy away from fossil fuels and demonstrates leadership on lowering emissions". 

A biomass boiler.
A biomass boiler. Photo credit: Getty

She said it means the Government is "moving in the right direction" to be able to reach its goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and net zero carbon by 2050 - outlined in the Zero Carbon Act. 

Seven of the eight schools receiving biomass boilers are in the lower South Island and there is one in the central North Island. 

The rest of the funding - $2.4 million - will go towards replacing a coal boiler at Ashburton Hospital, and $2.8 million will upgrade Christchurch's Hillmorton Hospital's mental health unit to a Green Star rating. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)'s last quarterly energy report in 2019 showed coal-fired generation was more than double that recorded a year earlier.  

The Government's big spend-up also splits $300 million across four areas of the health sector, to expand child healthcare, maternity and mental health facilities.  

How the money is split

  • $83 million for child and maternal health
  • $96 million for mental health and addiction
  • $26 million for regional and rural service projects
  • $75 million to upgrade and fix aging hospitals
  • $20 million saved for contingency 

The $96 million will contribute to new mental health facilities at Tauranga Hospital and Whakatane Hospital, as well as a new mental health unit a Hutt Valley DHB, and refurbishing Taranaki's mental health facility. 

The $300 million boost builds on the $2.45 billion of capital invested into hospitals and other health facilities in the Government's last two Budgets.