Press Release, 15 January 2013
When activists gathered a year ago near Mataura in Southland for the first “Keep the Coal in the Hole” Summer Festival, New Zealand was facing what looked like a massive, four-part, assault on the climate by Solid Energy.
The basis of that assault was Solid’s plans to exploit vast quantities of lignite, a low-grade brown coal that lies beneath prime Southland farmland – plans that, if carried out, would emit billions of tonnes of additional greenhouse gas emissions.
Solid was building its experimental pilot lignite briquetting plant, with a view to a full-scale briquetting plant being built later on. A lignite-to-urea plant in partnership with fertiliser company Ravensdown was to follow, and then the biggest project of all, a plant to make synthetic diesel from lignite. The New Vale mine would be expanded and another larger mine dug to fuel all these projects.
Solid Energy claimed that 2300 jobs would come to Southland as a result of all these projects. However, as the 2013’s Summer Festival approaches this weekend in Gore, the gathering faces quite a different situation.
The pilot briquetting plant has been built but the confident statements by Solid Energy in April that it would be open “middle of this year” and July’s predictions of “Production this month” have come to nothing.
“The plant is there, but we’re not sure what it’s doing. We know that several people have walked away from one of the six local jobs it has created so far, citing safety fears, and there’s no official opening in sight,” said co-organiser of this week’s festival, Jenny Campbell, of the local Coal Action Murihiku group.
Also on the back burner are plans for the lignite-to-fertiliser project after Ravensdown walked away from the partnership. And expansion of the mine has stalled due to local consent difficulties.
“One year on, Solid Energy is in a financial hole. There have been massive redundancies across the country, from Solid’s HQ in Christchurch to Spring Creek and Huntly. Solid appears to be staking its future on lignite, but the situation in Mataura is far from the rosy picture the company paints,” Mrs Campbell said.
The national group opposed to new and expanded coal mines, Coal Action Network Aotearoa, called on the new Solid Energy Board Chair, Mark Ford, to sack CEO Don Elder.
“Don is paid more than $1 million per year, but he has done nothing to earn it,” said spokesperson Tim Jones. “He has entirely mismanaged this company and should step aside.”
“The last time exploiting Southland lignite was considered was during Think Big. Economics put paid to that idea. The price of coal has put paid to Spring Creek and Solid’s other coalmining efforts. Is lignite really economic, or is it just Don’s personal fantasy?” Mr Jones asked.
Solid Energy is now so far from the Asset Sales process it’s laughable.
Meanwhile, an economic report commissioned by WWF-NZ and produced by BERL shows that Southland has enormous potential to develop a low carbon economy, if more investments were made into forestry, horticulture, manufacturing and engineering, and education and training sectors. Investment in, for example, wood and forest products could produce 1800 jobs and boost the economy by $190 billion over the next 15 years.
This year’s Summer Festival will be held in Gore, with an open day for the public at the James Cumming Wing, Ardwick St, Gore, from 10 a.m. on Sunday. Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks will open the event. Keynote speaker, a farmer defending land and the environment, Rob McCreath from Friends of Felton Australia will talk of how his group’s “Lock the Gate” campaign helped to stop a mining project and petrochemical plant in their beautiful Queensland valley.
The full programme for Sunday is here