16 October 2013– Coal activists are cheering today at the news that Solid Energy and GLT Ltd are mothballing the lignite briquette plant in Mataura, Southland, and said they were confident that a final decision later this month would shut it for good.
This is the final nail hammered into the coffin of Solid Energy’s grandiose plans to turn farmland into an open-cast lignite mine: a multi-billion dollar plan to use some of the world’s dirtiest coal to convert into diesel, urea, and into highly experimental “briquettes.” (see Solid Energy history, below).
“This is a great day for the climate – Southland’s coal is being kept right where it should be – in the hole, propping up beautiful, fertile farmland,” said Rosemary Penwarden of Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA).
“Meanwhile, Solid Energy has left a divided community, sponsorships abandoned, and a valley full of tenant farmers wondering what their future is going to be. This should be a warning for any community when a big coal company comes to town, promising the earth.”
After Ravensdown walked away from the coal-to-urea project, and Fonterra confirmed it wouldn’t use the briquettes, Solid Energy’s plans were looking pretty shaky. After Solid’s economic downfall, the company turned to its partner in the briquetting plant, GTL Energy Australia, to continue in its efforts to get the briquette plant up and running.
While GTL is still talking up the success of the briquette plant, over the course of this year, neighbours have continued to report – from their observations of the plant, and after their regular meetings with the plant manager – that the experimental technology has suffered from continued problems. The company had even been seen returning briquettes to the New Vale mine from whence the coal had come, returning the coal to its hole.
In June, a CANA Freedom of Information request found that a similar effort by GTL to trial the technology in North Dakota had resulted in an explosion in the plant, that was then closed down. The FOI showed that Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment officials had expressed grave concerns at the fire risks in Mataura.
Last month, on 18 September, the local fire department attended a fire at the Mataura plant after dust in some ducting caught alight.
“This whole sorry mess, along with the financial instability of Solid Energy, should be a warning to the Government not to trust the promises of Big Coal. Perhaps their eyes should be now turning to the shaky financial condition of Bathurst Resources, who want to dig up the Denniston Plateau” said Ms Penwarden.
Some of Solid Energy’s past promises
September 2009: Solid promises 500 jobs from lignite to Urea
September 2011: Briquetting plant: Solid promises 85 full time positions (now down to one, with three jobs lost this week)