Press Release for immediate release:

Coal action network to take complaint over Solid Energy market research

Friday 20 April 2012—The Coal Action Network Aotearoa today accused Solid Energy of carrying out dubious market research to give the impression that there is massive support for coal – and is considering laying a formal complaint at the company’s refusal to release the full results of the research.

CANA has seen some of the research after a member recently took part in what appears to be this year’s annual survey for Solid Energy, research that is similar to a 2009 poll. See (1).

“The questions appear to be designed to produce a particularly positive set of answers that would benefit the company’s public image,” said Kristin Gillies of CANA. “We want to see the full set of questions so we can judge for ourselves.”

The research has been used in company annual reports to back suspiciously positive statements about public attitudes to coal.

“On the basis of Solid’s questioning, you could make anyone agree to pretty much anything and produce some fantastic statistics to it look like the country’s most popular company,” said Gillies. “But most of the statements are patently misleading and have no facts to back them up.”

“Many New Zealanders could agree that swimming with sharks was fine if it created jobs and was good for their health and welfare.”

The campaigning group has written to Solid CEO Don Elder (see letter here ) asking him to release the market research carried out in 2009-11. Solid Energy refused to release this information to members of last week’s Commerce Select Committee, stating that it was “commercially sensitive, confidential and subject to a contract with a provider.”

But this refusal to make the research public is a clear breach of the Market Research Society’s Codes of Practice that state: “researchers shall always be prepared to make available the technical information necessary to assess the validity of any published findings.”

CANA has also asked the research company, Colmar Brunton, for the details of the research. If they, too, refuse, CANA will take a formal complaint to the MRSNZ.

CANA has checked the questions with several experts in market research (2), all of whom agree that the questions are indeed leading and break some very basic rules of objective market research.

“No doubt Don Elder will be using this year’s research to spin to his shareholders – and that’s us, the public – that we are all champing at the bit for Solid Energy to start digging up the world’s dirtiest coal from the beautiful Southland farmland.”

Solid Energy deployed a similar set of questions in its 2009 survey, based on a highly misleading and incorrect statement that made a still-experimental carbon storage technology look like it was already available. (3)

Yet the technology referred to – Carbon Capture and Storage – has not been commercially deployed, not least because of the huge costs involved (4)

“While some may not find it surprising that Solid Energy is carrying out this type of polling, we find it duplicitous of the company to use leading questions in market research to fool its shareholders – us, into thinking there is more support for coal than there actually is.”

“We think it’s time Solid Energy released the full set of questions – and the results – to the public so that we can all judge whether the results posted in its annual reports can be believed.”

Contacts: Kristin Gillies, Coal Action Network Aotearoa 021 065 0460

(1) There were some of the questions:

[On a scale of 5: strongly agree to strongly disagree]
“ Do you agree or disagree with:
Solid energy developing the lignite resource in Southland?
…if it was done without increasing carbon emissions?
…if the earth was returned to its natural state after?
…if it lowered the price of diesel?
…if it created jobs?
…if the local community got special benefits from it?
…if it increased the New Zealand standard of living?
…if it benefited the New Zealand economy?
…if it was done by a New Zealand company?
…if most of the money raised stayed in New Zealand?’

(2) Experts are available to speak with the media

(3) This section began with a statement: “Using coal to produce energy can release pollutants into the air. Are you aware that technology can be used to reduce the release of these pollutants to near zero?” The Questions that followed that began with “…given that emissions can be used to reduce the release of these pollutants to near zero…”
That year, Solid Energy’s Annual report stated, on page 2,
“Almost two thirds [of New Zealanders] think we should make greater use of our coal resources… and 84% are more positive if technology is used to reduce pollutant emissions.”

(4) For example, this recent BBC on efforts to deploy the technology in the UK