Solid Energy hit by 'perfect storm'

Don Elder
Don Elder
The former head of Solid Energy Don Elder has blamed the troubled coal company's $389 million debt on the "perfect storm'' of unprecedented coal price falls last year and the strong Kiwi dollar.

Dr Elder fronted for the first time before the commerce committee at Parliament today alongside former chairman John Palmer.

Dr Elder said the committee had always been the appropriate place for him to give answers on the fate of the company.

He said it wasn't just New Zealand coal companies that were feeling the brunt of a drop in the price of coal, but US companies were also in serious trouble.

He said the situation with Solid Energy needed to be looked at within an international context.

Dr Elder offered an apology to workers on the West Coast who lost their jobs.

"I accept there are decisions we would have made differently.''

"I am very sorry for things people at Solid Energy are going through.''

"Every single one of them [minster and workers] has been passionate about our business.''

Dr Elder defended his tenure with Solid Energy saying the company had been brought back from the bring of closure in 1999.

"Over 12 years Solid Energy has doubled production."

He said the company had withstood a 60 per cent crash in coal prices and generated $1 billion direct revenue to Mr Palmer stepped down as chairman last June, 18 months before his term was scheduled to end.

Dr Elder stepped down in early February, days before Finance Minister Bill English revealed the company was tottering under $389 million in debt and was in talk with bankers.

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