Briquette hopes reduced to ashes
Solid Energy set to 'temporarily' shut plantLOUISE BERWICK
Two years ago, it was hailed as a new dawn for Eastern Southland, but now the multimillion-dollar state-owned briquette plant in Mataura faces closure.
The announcement of a proposal to close the plant comes just days after the first briquettes went on the market in Southland, and is set to leave three people jobless.
The $30 million Solid Energy briquette plant's future has been hanging in the balance since it went on the market this year.
Solid Energy, working in partnership with GTL Energy, announced yesterday it was proposing to "temporarily" shut the plant.
Solid Energy acting chief executive Garry Diack said the companies spoke to their employees yesterday.
"As a result, Solid Energy has today spoken to the plant's staff, outlining a proposal, which, if implemented as outlined, would see the number of permanent roles reduce from four to one."
Solid Energy spokesman Bryn Somerville said one operator position would remain at the plant if it was shut, to maintain and ensure the value of the plant.
The proposal comes just days after the briquettes went on sale in Southland.
The coal bricks went on the market after the two companies ran a trial to gauge the plant's production capabilities and technology.
In the trial, some Southland companies gave away the product to see what their customers thought of them.
GTL Energy chief executive Fred Schulte said the results were "pleasing" but the plant was still proposed to be shut.
"We are reviewing how the briquette product fits in the current New Zealand domestic coal market, and the plant's role in supporting the next phase of global technology deployment and that will dictate the plant's future."
Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks said the announcement was "gut-wrenching".
"There had been quite a lot of hope that it would provide increasing employment and that has been dashed and that is a real shame."
When Solid Energy turned the first sod on the plant in 2011 the guest speakers gushed about the exciting prospects for the plant and region and it was labelled as a new era in lignite conversion.
At the time Finance Minister Bill English stood in a Southland paddock and said the plant was the first step in something "very significant for New Zealand and hugely significant for Eastern Southland".
But his claims have not come through and instead of job advertisements, it's job losses, and after barely taking the first step, the plant seems to be taking its last.
The proposal comes after an announcement earlier this month that Solid Energy would need a three-year turnaround in international coal prices if it was to recover, as it revealed a $335.4 million loss and warned of more losses to come.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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