Resignation may delay lignite plans

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2013

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Solid Energy's chief executive resigned yesterday, a move that could push proposed lignite developments in Southland back by about six months, the Gore District mayor says.

The resignation of Dr Don Elder was effective immediately, and follows a string of resignations from six of eight board members at Solid Energy last year.

Solid Energy has interests in the development of lignite in Southland, with commissioners currently testing at the company's new briquetting plant at Mataura.

Solid Energy has also proposed to develop an urea and petrochemical plant in Southland.

Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks said no significant plans would be made until Solid Energy's new chief executive was established in the job, which could take up to six months.

The briquetting plant was "a work in progress", and the proposed lignite to urea and lignite to diesel plants would be delayed for some time, he said.

"Things have been up in the air for some time now. It all comes back to Solid Energy's ability to finance the project," he said.

The resignation came as no surprise given the financial challenges of the company, Mr Hicks said.

Coal Action Network Aotearoa spokesman Tim Jones said the resignation of Dr Elder, who pushed for "dirty" lignite proposals in Southland, was a chance to pull the pin on proposed developments in the Mataura Valley.

"Now Solid Energy has a chance to cut its losses, walk away from this failed project and leave Southland's coal in the hole," Mr Jones said.

Last month, the group asked company chairman Mark Ford to sack Dr Elder, saying he did nothing to earn his $1.4 million salary and had mismanaged the company.

Mr Ford had a reputation of getting rid of underperforming chief executives, Mr Jones said.

After stepping down, Dr Elder said it was the right time for the future direction of the company to be led by a new chief executive.

The company had a strong future once it worked through the impacts of the market downturn, he said.

Garry Diack, previously the company's group manager organisational development and performance, will fill the position until an appointment is made.

Solid Energy would not comment on what impact Dr Elder's resignation may have on lignite developments in Southland, or if the company was struggling to finance its projects.

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- The Southland Times

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