I was interested to read that Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods had told Rio Tinto its behaviour at the aluminium smelter was “not good for New Zealand or Southland”.
I totally agree.
That was followed by Contact Energy head Mike Fuge telling me Rio Tinto was ready to sign “a long-term deal” for electricity.
I’m on Minister Woods’ side of the discussion ,and question why we are subsidising a polluting and highly profitable Australian multinational at the expense of our own economic wellbeing.
The answer we are continually given, that of the 800 jobs in Southland, is fallacious. There is an employment crisis, there is such a shortage of workers we’re importing them and the Southland dairy industry is infinitely more environmentally friendly than the smelter and it needs workers.
Further, Rio Tinto proudly tell us that the Tiwai Point smelter is highly efficient, producing just two tonnes of CO2 per tonne of aluminium.
I found that figure interesting, as burning coal, the worlds’ worse polluter, gives three tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Interestingly, AgResearch has shown that milk production produces just 770 kg of CO2 per tonne of product, making milk production almost three times more environmentally friendly than the smelter.
As the smelter produces around 330,000t of aluminium a year, using the AgResearch figure that’s roughly equal to the carbon footprint of a million cows. As we are only milking 4.9 million dairy cows, the smelter’s contribution to global warming is highly significant.
Iniquitously, it seems we want to tax milk production and give the smelter another get-out-of-jail-free card. It doesn’t make sense.
It actually gets worse. Back in 2021, Radio NZ told us that they were confident the Tiwai Point smelter wouldn’t close if aluminium prices remained high.
Ridiculously, they added that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) claimed there were risks this “would add millions of tonnes to greenhouse gas emissions”.
So MBIE aren’t worried about greenhouse gas emissions from an Australian multinational but they’re verging on the hysterical when it comes to cows?
Just imagine if Feds president Andrew Hoggard got up and told the nation that we were going to add another million cows to the herd with the resultant increase in methane emissions. Climate Change Minister James Shaw would be apoplectic; Greenpeace would be hysterical, and our old friends from PETA suicidal.
Another reason the smelter should close, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, is that it increases the price of power for everyone else.
We currently have a cost-of-living crisis, with many ordinary Kiwis yearning for the extra $200 they’d save annually if the smelter wasn’t there. The Electricity Authority estimated that $200 figure as a result of the subsidised cheap power to the smelter.
Can anyone tell me why ordinary, everyday Kiwis should be subsidising an Australian multinational that last year made a profit of $53.5 billion, up from $36bn the previous year?
Can anyone tell me why a majority state-owned electricity company, Meridian Energy, offered a “significant deal to Rio Tinto to keep the smelter open”.
Further, there’s the pollution problem. I wonder why an Australian multinational can get away with considerable pollution whereas if a dairy farmer’s pump breaks and causes pollution they are hit with the full rigour of the law and pilloried in the media.
At the end of 2021, tests showed that soil, drains and groundwater were contaminated at levels that exceeded key thresholds. It found 83% of groundwater samples fell foul of drinking water standards as well as regional council guidelines for aluminium and toxic fluoride.
The jackbooted response from the smelter was that no one uses groundwater for drinking. That was despite the testing being done at 238 different locations. Just imagine if a dairy farmer used that excuse.
Late last year a new assessment of the smelter was completed by Southland Regional Council. It showed, among other things, that the groundwater was contaminated “with elevated levels of fluoride, aluminium, arsenic, hydrocarbons and cyanide”. Stormwater drains’ sediment contained elevated levels of “fluoride, aluminium, hydrocarbons and heavy metals”.
Late last year another report suggested the cost for cleaning up the smelter would be $1bn.
The smelter has been operating for 50 years. That means the people of New Zealand have been subsidising Rio Tinto for that time and one would have to ask why. Using the current figure of $200 a year, times 50, comes out at a $10,000 handout to Rio Tinto, which is totally unacceptable.
Also consider that we burn coal to fill the gap in electricity generation and you have a totally farcical situation.
Add to that the $30 million handout the Key government donated to the smelter and consider for a minute if Fonterra had the same cosy deal the Australian multinational had.
It could run its boilers on electricity, not coal, and the whole of NZ would benefit.