Solid Energy keen to get lignite plant operating

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2013

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Commissioners will meet at Solid Energy's lignite briquette plant in Mataura next week to resume efforts to start production.

Solid Energy's planned $25 million lignite briquetting plant, the first phase of its development of the resource around Mataura, had been due to start production last June but testing caused delays.

Solid Energy spokesman Bryn Somerville said some commissioning team members were from overseas and were expected on site next week.

Production started last year as part of the commissioning process, he said.

"Prior to Christmas the plant was producing briquettes as part of the commissioning.

"We're continuing to work through commissioning the plant," he said.

Tapping into Southland's lignite resource would generate jobs and income, as well as provide import substitutions, Mr Somerville said.

"We believe the projects will have huge benefits for Southland and the whole of New Zealand.

"Our view is that it is definitely worth exploring, it's got potential to be a huge benefit for the country, so we should proceed to investigate," he said.

When asked why production had been set back since June, Mr Somerville said new technology had required testing before production could start.

It was hoped commissioning would finish as soon as possible, but it was not known when this would be, he said.

The news comes as hundreds of anti-lignite mining activists are expected to gather near Gore this weekend for the Keep the Coal in the Hole festival.

Activists will participate in workshops and anti-lignite campaigning to try to stop Solid Energy's lignite mining in the area.

Coal Action Murihiku co-convener Jenny Campbell told The Southland Times last week the group had enough support to stop lignite mining from going ahead in the Mataura Valley.

Mrs Campbell said yesterday that the group could not stop the mining on its own.

"The whole issue is a lot bigger than us. It's not up to our little group to do that," she said.

World markets, awareness and resources for campaigning all affected what the group could achieve. The group has raised concerns about the briquette plant's impact on the environment, jobs and the delays in production.

"The plant is there but we're not sure what it's doing. We know that several people have walked away from one of six local jobs it has created so far, citing safety fears, and there's no official opening in sight," she said.

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- The Southland Times

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