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Meridian keen for Tiwai smelter to stay

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 27/10/2016 Fiona Rotherham

Meridian chief executive Mark Binns says the South Island electricity generator and retailer wants to see the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter stay, "but not at any cost".

At its annual general meeting in Christchurch, Mr Binns told shareholders that he had recently returned from seeing investors in the UK and US where the smelter is always the first issue for discussion.

That was "not surprising, given the smelter uses 12 per cent of New Zealand's electricity and its future has implications for the whole sector", he said.

From January, Meridian gets a price increase under the refreshed contract it negotiated last year with the smelter's owners, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters which is majority-owned by Rio Tinto.

The contract still runs to 2030 but the owners have an annual option to close or partially close the facility with January 1 being the first date it can make that decision.

Mr Binns said: "I believe the smelter will stay for the foreseeable future and hope that they do so. However, the owners have to form their own views based on the reality of the world aluminium market and their view of the future," he said.

If the smelter closed, the excess power in the lower South Island would flow north and the supply and demand side of the markets would need to adjust to the "new normal", he said. On Meridian's modelling, over a medium term horizon of five years, the company could be in an even stronger strategic position than it is today, he said

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