Robertson ‘optimistic’ smelter deal possible

Hopes were renewed for a potential extension of the life of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Energy Minister Megan Woods visited Invercargill, where they met Southland leaders to give an update on the Government’s discussions with smelter owner Rio Tinto.

While the negotiations were ongoing, Mr Robertson said he was "still very optimistic" a deal could be done.

"We are remaining very committed to having a managed exit from the site so that is what we are working towards."

He believed an extension would be beneficial for all parties, but acknowledged some issues were still to be solved.

Those included remediation of the site — "we don’t want toxic waste left for the people of Southland" — and maintaining the workforce.

The Government understood Rio Tinto’s desires regarding transmissions pricing, he said.

The ministers’ visit came on the same day as the announcement of a feasibility study, by Meridian Energy and Contact Energy, for a large-scale renewable hydrogen production facility to replace the smelter.

In Invercargill yesterday are (from left) Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Labour Te Tai...
In Invercargill yesterday are (from left) Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Labour Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene, Labour Party list MP Liz Craig and and Minister of Energy and Resources Megan Woods. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO


Dr Woods said it was an example of the kind of opportunities the region could explore, and the meeting with Southland leaders had also been to talk about those.

"We haven’t waited for the conclusion of those [negotiations] to begin looking at which exciting opportunities there are for Southland in a post-smelter world."

Southland Mayoral Forum chairman and Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said the meeting was "constructive", but no timeframe was given.

The ministers were "absolutely committed to getting a result", Mr Hicks said.

He could not say if there would be a deal by the end of the year.

"I’m impatient. I want it done, I want it done yesterday but ... it is still going and I’ve just got to play my part.

"The Southland community needs to know what is happening and definite timelines for a way forwards."

He denied the announcement of the hydrogen facility feasibility study would mean the plant would close next year.

"I think it is very positive. One of the the good things to come out of this whole situation has been a whole host of ideas have come forward about the potential use for the power."

Market South director Carla Forbes said there was still a lot of work to do, but one outcome she took from the meeting was "a need as a region to collaborate and speak with one voice".

"We are fortunate to have numerous organisations with strong voices and we are all wanting the same thing — a strong economy, great social outcomes and a truly liveable place for all our whanau.

"We just need to be co-ordinated to ensure we get our message across and don’t work in silos. I believe this will be the best way forward as a region."

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