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Written By: - Date published: 3:41 pm, January 14th, 2021 - 46 comments
Categories: Economy, Politics - Tags: , , ,

No Right Turn has an apt way of putting things some times. The way that the smelter operates is the exact equivalent of some thuggish barbarians with big swords extracting tribute for not burning, raping and pillaging. In other words Danegeld or any other form of protection racket. I’ll repeat his succinct post here and then follow up with a few of my comments.

Paying the BluffGeld

So, Rio Tinto has supposedly reached a deal with Meridian and Contact to give them cheaper electricity prices and keep the Tiwai Point smelter open. Down south, they’re celebrating. But the rest of us shouldn’t be. I’ve argued before that the best thing this foreign polluter can do is close. It uses 12% of our total electricity generation, effectively making it responsible for that entire sector’s carbon emissions, while receiving huge carbon subsidies (latest figures: 1.7 million tons in 2019, worth $65 million at today’s prices if they’re getting an equivalent amount this year, a huge whack of their annual “profit”, and enough for us to pay every worker there $65,000 a year for the rest of their lives to find something else to do). Added to that, their constant threats of closure to extort ever-more-favourable terms from governments who want it to close, but not on their watch, plays havoc with our electricity market, deterring renewables investment as no-one can be sure whether there will be a glut in three or four years time. The smelter seems to exist solely as a machine for extorting subsidies from the New Zealand government – subsidies paid by you and me, in the form of higher taxes and electricity prices. And our chickenshit politicians keep falling for it, and paying the BluffGeld, to avoid the horrific situation of us not having to pay them anymore.

Rio Tinto says this deal “mak[es] the smelter economically viable and competitive over the next four years.” Naturally it expires in 2024, just after the next election, so next election time we can expect them to be claiming that the smelter is economically unviable and uncompetititve and asking for another subsidy. And I expect our chickenshit politicians to roll over and pay them off again, dooming us to higher emissions and more expensive electricity. Because once you pay the DaneGeld, you never get rid of the Dane.

No Right Turn: “Paying the BluffGeld

The point about the level of risk is especially valid. Markets are horrible at dealing with longer term uncertainty. This on again, off again extortion damages the current electricity markets. As NRT says “…their constant threats of closure to extort ever-more-favourable terms from governments who want it to close, but not on their watch, plays havoc with our electricity market…”.

It isn’t hard to find statements by renewable companies and analysis on the electricity market (which looks about as free and fair as any other semi-monopolistic cartel) to support the havoc argument. I don’t have the time to do it right now. But I’m sure that some will come up in comments.

The generating capacity at Manapouri isn’t going away. At some point this extortion and blackmail by the Tiwai Point operators will have an unhappy ending – the Electricity Authority needs to perform its basic mission, providing an efficient market.

They need to continue to fund Transpower to fund a line direct from Manapouri towards the alternate use sites around Christchurch. In other words the “Net Zero Grid Pathways: Accessing Lower South Island Renewables“. The first part of that is underway…

Clutha Upper-Waitaki Lines Project

In the immediate-term, Transpower has committed to deliver the Clutha Upper Waitaki Lines Project (CUWLP) by May 2022. The project is set to deliver benefits in the order of $100m per year by enabling low-cost renewable electricity generated in the lower South Island to be transported north.  For more information visit the CUWLP project page here

Transpower: “Net Zero Grid Pathways

But I’m sure that the usual short-sighted responses from National’s shareholder community will want to divert the costs of that and the follow up projects to get rid of the structural into immediate rewards like short term lower prices and larger dividends to shareholders (including the government itself). After all National prefers tax cuts over long term planning – you only have to look at the disaster of their immigration without building housing ‘policy’ of their last terms in office to see that.

But I also suspect that there needs to me more of a user pays incentive for Meridian and Contact as well. To speed the grid reconstruction in the lower South Island up, the infrastructure levies on them should increased. After all, the reason for putting the infrastructure into the lower South Island si to provide some choices when inevitable the government or Rio Tinto decides to give up on playing chicken. The shareholders of Meridian and Contact should carry the can for that.

In the meantime, I think that I need to send a consumer message to gutless short-sighted wonders at Meridian and terminate our power account. I’m interested in a long-term sustainable power supply to run this site and this country with. Clearly Meridian isn’t being sustainable over the long term. They are wasting their asset of generated power into an unsustainable industry and effectively charging me higher prices to support that.

For the country as a whole we need to increase our available power generation and distribution to target non-fossil fuel systems. Like electric vehicles. Having Meridian and Contact need to focus on the longer term infrastructural issues instead of the shorter term in the way that they appear to have been doing. Clearly the dumb arse market solution that National foisted on us in electricity isn’t achieving that.

46 comments on “BluffGeld ”

  1. Cricklewood 1

    You just know, that out there somewhere in the political abyss Winston is taking credit for this…

  2. Labour pushing this issue out till after the next election by abjectly caving-in to a wealthy multinational. Shoddy politics.

  3. Pure Rio Tinto MUSCLE. COVID- 19 will come back and bite RT where it hurts.

    We were never in a position to confront RT in the current pandemic and the climate change already happening.

    Meridian and Contact have been raped. We the tax payers subsidise this?

  4. Tricledrown 4

    Demand for Aluminium is well down with the airline industry in hibernation c19.

    To keep tiwae going until alternative uses for the power are ready makes a lot of sense.

  5. Jimmy 5

    As stated in the article, you can pretty much guarantee that in 2024 they will again decide it is uneconomical to continue and will use the same black mailing tactics.

  6. Steve Bradley 6

    Rio Tinto probably the number one resource extraction stand-over merchant worldwide.

    Our Labour government has four years to get our country into a position where we can tell them to get lost, and don't come back.

    • Phillip ure 6.1

      I don't get this..

      the smelter is there..

      for the gummint ..the energy used to power it is essentially free…

      wave bye-bye to Rio tinto..

      and hire industry experts to run it..

      for the end benefit of the new zealand people..

      • Andre 6.1.1

        That would only make sense if we had a vast surplus of electricity we were desperately trying to get some value from rather than wasting it.

        We're not in that situation.

        The power used by Tiwai Point is roughly the same as the amount generated at Huntly. Shut down Tiwai Point and use the freed up power to shut down Huntly, and our electricity supply goes very nearly emissions-free. That's a much bigger benefit to NZ than a few jobs and receiving a pittance in return for about 1/7 of our total electricity supply.

        • alwyn

          I assume you will take this up with the Prime Minister and our Minister of Finance.

          It seems to be a bit too hard for them to understand. Sigh.

          • Andre

            In a feeble possible defense of those in government and Meridian that have cravenly capitulated, the grid upgrade to get the Manapouri power to Benmore (southern end of the HVDC link) wasn't scheduled to be complete until 2023 IIRC. So had Tiwai shut down this year, there would have been significant wasted power in late 2021, 2022, and some of 2023.

          • Incognito

            It’s a tad presumptuous of you to pretend to know more and better than the PM and the Minister of Finance, that they are incompetent, and that they could be ‘enlightened’ by TS commenters such as yourself.

            Does it irk you that it’s only mid-January 2021 and Labour has already delivered on one of its Election Campaign Policies?

            In any case, the deal is a commercial deal between the smelter and Meridian. Maybe that’s a bit too hard for you to understand?


            • alwyn

              I presume you were replying to Andre.

              He is the one who was pointing out that in his view the new deal doesn't make any sense if we really want to reduce out carbon emissions.

              As far as being a commercial deal between the smelter and Meridian, of course it is.

              However when you, Meridian, are negotiating with a private company it makes it a little difficult when your majority shareholder, the New Zealand Government has already told the refinery that you are going to give them what they want. Before the election Meridian had given the smelter their lowest price offer. The refinery said it was too much and the Government stepped in and promised that the price would drop.

              A commercial deal? Where did you ever go to school?

              If you were referring to me I would have to tell you that there are many things about which my knowledge is a great deal better than our PM and our Minister of Finance. Not everything but certainly some things.

              • Incognito

                Well, now I’m not so sure if I was replying to you or to my parsnip.

                Just for you, yes you, Alwyn:



                If you were referring to me I would have to tell you that there are many things about which my knowledge is a great deal better than our PM and our Minister of Finance. Not everything but certainly some things.


                “many things”, “some things”, “[n]ot everything” 😀

                This is pure comedy gold!


                • alwyn

                  From your first link we have

                  "Meridian Chief Executive, Neal Barclay says, “We have worked hard to provide solutions that we believe were of lasting value to the Smelter and acceptable to our shareholders."

                  Well I'm a shareholder and I wasn't consulted. I think that we should just tell the smelter to take a hike.

                  On the other hand, when you look at page 114 of the Companies Annual Report we see the list of the largest shareholders. Number 1 is

                  "Her Majesty The Queen In Right Of New Zealand Acting by and Through Her Minister of Finance And Minister for SOEs"

                  Share holding 1,307,586,374

                  Percentage of outstanding shares 51.018

                  The Ministers are of course Grant Robertson and David Clark. I'll bet they were pleased.

                  • Incognito

                    Well, thank you for making your point so succinctly.

                    Are you suggesting that shareholders ought to be at the negotiating table when drafting an agreement?

                    Unless it is confidential, you can let us know how the other shareholders voted when the proposal is ratified – I am assuming it will be ratified. Has a date been set yet?

                    For the record, I am not a shareholder of any of the companies involved nor do I live in Southland. However, as a voter I was consulted in the General Election. I’ll bet they were pleased with the stunning result.

            • KJT

              A "commercial deal" that continues the general practice of power companies since privatisation.

              Ripping off domestic users to subsidise their "competitive" discounts to big users of power.

              • alwyn

                You are really going to have to decide who you believe. Is it the incognito who says that it was a purely commercial decision made by the Power Company management, and that the Government had nothing to do with it. Alternatively was it the Government fulfilling one of their election promises and that it was the Government who made the deal and the company simply did what the Government ordered them to do?

                I think the deal was done because the Government Ministers ordered it to be done and that the Government is responsible. It is only my belief of course and I could, as I sometimes am, be wrong. The last time that happened was when I believed that Rob Muldoon only had the good of the country at heart in all his actions

                [When you engage in debate in good faith, you don’t apply false dichotomies, you don’t appeal to ‘believe”, and you don’t put words in mouths of others, as you did here; I did not say these things.

                I did say this:

                In any case, the deal is a commercial deal between the smelter and Meridian.

                This is absolutely correct! It is not even my opinion but taken directly from the link that I provided. In fact, I’ve stated that it was an Election Policy of Labour and I provided a link as well for that. If you cannot comprehend and reconcile these things as consistent and compatible with each other and feel the urge to change them into false dichotomies to suit your narrative I can come to only one conclusion …

                You’re entitled to your orifice plucks thinking they’ll pass the sniff test but you’re not welcome to mischievous comments and false allegations. You know where this will end you – Incognito]

                • Incognito

                  See my Moderation note @ 8:35 AM.

                • alwyn

                  I really thought that " Is it the incognito who says that it was a purely commercial decision made by the Power Company management" was an accurate paraphrase of " the deal is a commercial deal between the smelter and Meridian".

                  • Incognito

                    Paraphrasing doesn’t mean twisting the meaning of words and/or extending their meaning way beyond the original meaning and context based on assumptions and reckons to suit your narrative.

                    Expect to be moderated for it as well as well as for the other two faux pas.

                    Please lift your game, thanks.

              • Incognito

                There are no subsidies involved, it was a commercial deal.

                https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/434490/tiwai-point-aluminium-smelter-to-keep-operating-until-end-of-2024 [same link as above]

              • Incognito

                In an ideal case, closure of the smelter would lead to lower electricity prices for customers.


                • Sacha

                  Huge wasted opportunity just reducing existing power bills (even if the privatised energy companies do not just intercept the savings for their shareholders rather than customers).

                  Also does nothing much for employment in that part of the country, which has long been the main negotiating hostage.

                  • Incognito

                    What was a viable alternative, in your opinion? Flick the switch off now or do it in an orderly well-planned manner in four years’ time?

                    • Sacha

                      Have said before that I'd like to see the freed-up electricity directed to decarbonising all our public transit – and small commercial vehicles like courier vans, farm utes, and small service vehicles used by local and central govt agencies. Transport is our biggest non-farming sector needing climate action.

                      Add a focused engineering cluster in Dunedin and maybe Christchurch to install, maintain and even build those types of drivetrains in Aotearoa. Farm vehicles might be a good export niche too.

                      Will take longer than 4 years but needs to start with a clear vision and political comms process.

                      Looks like hydrogen is stealing some of the limelight right now but it's not the most efficient use of the energy, nor the best sustainable job creation.

                    • Incognito []

                      Yes, that all makes good sense, but only realistic in the medium term, don’t you think?

                      I think that a transition period is well-placed in which the many invested parties can work together, despite any differences of opinion and (economic and/or socio-political) interests, to devise a good plan that serves people locally, regionally, and nationally.

                    • Incognito []

                      When Government signalled a halt to oil & gas exploration, they did this in similar way, to give people and itself enough time to adapt to the inevitable changes. In this way, they flattened the curve of political and socio-economic pain and gave people some certainty in the short-term and interim. While we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, the worst of which doesn’t seem to be over yet, I think it makes more sense to play it safe, at least from a political and economic perspective. Now might not be the time for grand experiments or grandiose promises that always fall way short of expectation.

                    • Sacha

                      I do not want to see a repeat of the wasted opportunities in the 2020 'shovel-ready' projects that swallowed so much money that could have been used for transformation without scaring the horses.

                    • Incognito []

                      I 100% agree with that, and I’d like to think that is true too for this Government; it was more or less what I tried to convey in my last sentence.

        • Phillip ure

          I see it as an asset that could benefit the country…

          we are told the smelter produces some of the highest quality aluminium on the planet…

          and the plan is to just let it all rust away??

          the infrastructure is all there…the power is all there..

          I find it difficult to believe this cannot be used/re-purposed..

          has that option even been looked at..?

          • Andre

            Your mention of the "highest quality aluminium" just shows your susceptibility to psychological manipulation by corporate spin-meisters. There is nothing special about the equipment or energy supplied to Tiwai Point that causes the high purity outcome. It's how they choose to operate the smelter, in particular the choice of consumable electrodes, that results in the high purity.

            As far as the actual equipment in place, its lack of value is clearly shown by the way none of the other players in the global industry is interested in buying it.

            As far as the electricity goes, you seem to be wilfully ignoring the key point. That is, New Zealand has much more valuable uses for the electricity consumed at Tiwai Point than smelting aluminium to be sold overseas at give-away prices.

            That you find something difficult to believe reflects your ignorance and lack of awareness of that ignorance much more than reflecting any kind of factual reality.

            • Phillip ure

              doesn't really matter how…but yes it makes high quality aluminium..

              to argue that closing tiwai means we are able to then close huntley .seems somewhat shortsighted/short-term..ill thought out..as the/a reason to abandon tiwai..

              that other aluminium manufacturers don't want tiwai could be for a raft of their reasons/dynamics .

              it is not automatic that it could not be made to work for us. .for that aluminium to be used also here in nz…

              and the aircraft industry is in a state of dissaray..

              this will not last…and I find it hard to believe the next generations of aircraft…likely to be as lite-weight as possible..will not need aluminium…and lots of it..

              so to make that judgement only on the current situation..also seems somewhat shortsighted..

              I'll let yr personal abuse lie where it fell..

              • alwyn

                " I find it hard to believe the next generations of aircraft…likely to be as lite-weight as possible..will not need aluminium"

                That is a very debatable statement Phillip. The fuselage of a 747, the long haul workhorse of the 80's and 90's was primarily aluminum, about 81% in fact. It had 1% composites. The next generation, the 777 reduced this to around 70% aluminum and 11% composites. This was the standard long haul plane of the first part of this century.

                The latest generation of long haul aircraft is the 787. That is only about 20% aluminum and 50% composites.

                These 3 types of aircraft first flew in 1969, 1994 and 2009 respectively.

                There may not really be as much demand to aluminum as we might think.


                • Phillip ure

                  thanks for clarifying that ..

                  but of course that is not the only use for aluminium..

                  it is strong..it is lite-weight..

                  it lasts forever…

                  how can this not be an asset to be realised ..?

                  • gsays

                    Building framing is something I keep thinking of for aluminium, studs, lintels, flashings and claddings.

                    None of the above means we shouldn't get rid of the parasite that is Rio Tinto.

                    Edit, well done on not rising to the regular, constant flow of the personal stuff.

                  • Stuart Munro

                    The Saudi smelters were producing aluminium car bodies, among other things – stronger per unit weight than steel, and resistant to some kinds of corrosion.

                    But the profitability of smelters, as with most metals, is a function of the production costs of the second most efficient operator. Depressed demand and shipping volumes will have flooded the market also – the only way Tiwai can be profitable is as a state pensioner, or by developing a downstream manufacturing capacity they have not pursued to date.

              • Incognito

                I'll let yr personal abuse lie where it fell..

                There was no “personal abuse”. Your comment @ was bathing in ignorance and you don’t even realise it. Please inform yourself before you comment here and don’t give us that BS again about ‘common sense’.

      • Gabby 6.1.2

        And where would the bauxite come from?

      • mikesh 6.1.3

        I assume NZ does not have a built in supply of bauxite.

  7. Forget now 7

    The toxic waste was supposed to be gone by Christmas, but then it was never supposed to be there in the first place. Six years is a long time for Mataura to rest under that sword of Premixacles. Nearly the anniversary of the February floods that threatened to asphyxiate the town. Guess we're just hoping the fine weather will continue?

    So long as NZAS is a going concern, then there's someone to sue. If the smelter closes, then I imagine that; corporate mask for Rio Tinto, will be discarded alongside any remaining obligations; as fast as Taha-AP folded when the costs outweighed the benefits.


  8. Ad 8

    In August 2020 the MacDiarmid Institute set out five good alternatives to Tiwai Point's current use. It would have been better for us all if the best of them had been given a year to develop further, with assistance from Southland development agencies, Ngai Tahu, and central government.


    But it didn't happen. And actually right now that's good.

    In our currently exceedingly perilous economic state it would be the wrong thing to change the operation that exists there. So the deal is a good move for New Zealand, which also happens to be the right commercial decision for them both.

    Instead the pressure should be on Transpower to accelerate development of the Clutha-Waitaki Lines Project which is now underway. Incidentally that also employs several hundred people during the Covid19 employment crisis, so Transpower are doing their bit there.

    There are also two consented wind farms with a total capacity of 400 MW in the Otago / Southland regions that would benefit from the transmission upgrade.

    James Shaw's climate Change Commission has just dodged the largest bullet they are likely to face in this government, and can now focus on smaller items.

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