Meridian 'boycott' mooted

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 10/10/2012

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Invercargill city councillors have suggested a boycott of Meridian Energy as a way to influence the "crisis" around the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

The council will look at a campaign to get Meridian Energy customers to switch power companies to get it to offer concessions to the smelter.

Negotiations over the future of the smelter's contract with Meridian are ongoing.

Owners Rio Tinto Alcan have said it could close if a cheaper electricity price could not be secured. It has been badly affected by the downturn in the global aluminium price, growing energy costs and the high value of the New Zealand dollar.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt proposed the boycott idea at last night's finance and policy committee meeting.

He said the original idea had been councillor Thelma Buck's.

"We should be seen to be taking action in a crisis like this," he said. "We have to look at something quite bold and innovative."

Encouraging Meridian customers to swap power companies

would put pressure on it, he said.

Mr Shadbolt also said he wanted Invercargill City Holdings to look at the feasibility of buying the Manapouri hydro-electric power station, valued at $600 million, securing the electricity supply the smelter relies upon.

Most of New Zealand appeared not to understand the importance of the smelter - which directly and indirectly employs about 3200 Southlanders - and saw it closing as positive, he said. "A lot of people around New Zealand say their electricity costs will come down. That's how they feel. They think the energy [used in the smelter] will be pumped up to Auckland to heat their spa pools."

Other people thought Rio Tinto was playing games to try to get cheaper electricity, but Mr Shadbolt said he believed the crisis was genuine and the council, leading the community, needed to react. "We should look at some way of changing it rather than sitting here like possums in the headlights."

City councillors also voiced concern over the smelter's future.

Alan Dennis said the rest of New Zealand needed to wake up and he was totally behind the mayor's idea.

Lindsay Abbott questioned whether a campaign against Meridian would be legal but said something had to be done, while Carolyn Dean said customers leaving Meridian would be a very strong signal to send.

The council voted unanimously to debate a plan of action under urgent business at next Tuesday's full council meeting.

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