UPDATE:  Press release, 20 June 2013 – Solid energy has now released a statement… so we have responded: 

Coal Action Network activist at Mataura briquetting plant

Coal Action Network activist at Mataura briquetting plant

According to information in an OIA about health and safety issues at the Mataura plant – recently received by CANA – the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment also has expressed concerns about the safety of the technology.

In handwritten notes an MBIE staffer noted the closure of GTL’s North Dakota plant:

“At plant in USA was an overpressure event – was when plant stopped. Dust spontaneously combusted.”

Another staffer had also written a report of their visit to the plant:

“I said I had a concern expressed to MBIE that plant has potential to explode.”

CANA has heard that two managers have already walked away from the plant citing safety concerns.

“Solid Energy has no money to pay for the at least $1.6 million required to get the lignite plant in Southland going and is right to walk away,” said Rosemary Penwarden from Coal Action Network Aotearoa. “But GTLE should also walk away.

“We don’t need our precious Southland farmland dug up to prop up experimental and unsafe technology that uses dirty lignite coal and contributes to climate change. Moreover, GTL wants to use this Southland plant so it can set up a similar plant in Indonesia. Why should we be the guinea pigs?”

Release from earlier today: 

It’s now been three days since Solid Energy said it was about to make a statement about the future of its failing lignite briquetting plant in Southland (1). Yet there has been no announcement.

This delay confirms reports Coal Action Network has been getting from on the ground at Mataura: that the plant is having all sorts of difficulties and that Solid Energy and partner GTL Energy Australia are in dispute over its future.

“There are still many hurdles to overcome before this plant produces briquettes for sale,” said Rosemary Penwarden of Coal Action Network. “While Solid Energy might be about to walk away, its partner GTL Energy’s future depends on this project going ahead.”

There appears to be a dispute between GTL Energy, which owns the still-untested technology, and Solid Energy, over who will pay out another $1.6m required for, amongst other things, a drying shed needed to dry the briquettes: somewhat of an oversight that they didn’t foresee their briquettes not standing up to Southland’s weather.

Other problems include:

  • Ongoing issues with the briquettes, that first spontaneously combusted, and now are having problems drying out in the cold Southland weather. The drying shed is the latest proposal to solve these difficulties. But the product still appears to be unstable.
  • Conveyor issues
  • Lighting, noise and traffic issues
  • The plant has breached its air quality consent with coal dust
  •  It now needs a new consent to increase its water intake from the current consent of 58,000 litres a day to a massive 400,000 litres of water a day.
  • The company claims the production process has passed a “five-day test” but locals, who’ve been watching closely, all dispute this. Maximum plant running time has been three days – at most.
  • The facility has been dormant for six weeks.

The plant has so far cost $28m.

“Both Solid Energy and GTL must walk away from this untried and clearly failing technology. GTL are desperate to keep this going, but they are dreaming; the world’s awash with cheap coal that nobody wants. Lignite is a dead loss,” said Ms Penwarden.

She also noted that GTLE had been suffering from financial problems and there are rumours that its North Dakota briquetting plant had closed and would be sold.

“The reality on the ground in Mataura bears no resemblance to GTL Energy’s glowing reports on their website. Is GTLE deliberately misleading investors?”

“The world doesn’t need the climate emissions from this coal. Return the land to what it’s good for: fertile, productive farmland. And Southland doesn’t need any more failed projects from dodgy coal companies promising the earth and producing nothing but problems for the locals.”

Recent reports of Solid Energy announcement and discussions:

18 June, Stuff: Cloud hangs over lignite plant
18 June, Radio NZ: Solid Energy to make announcement about lignite plant
19 June, Southland Times: Decision on plant’s future delayed