Video | Agriculture | Confidence | Economy | Energy | Employment | Finance | Media | Property | RBNZ | Science | SOEs | Tax | Technology | Telecoms | Tourism | Transport | Search

 


Smelter talks resume between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto

Smelter talks resume between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto

By Pattrick Smellie

Dec. 7 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's largest electricity producer, Meridian Energy, has resumed talks with Rio Tinto Alcan, the majority owner of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, over Rio's request for changes to 18-year contracts for power supply that kick in on Jan. 1.

Meridian chief executive Mark Binns told the company's annual public meeting in Wellington that Rio had recently come back to Meridian to resume discussions after Meridian set out what it was and wasn't prepared to renegotiate in the contracts, which were signed in 2007, and account for about one-seventh of total electricity consumption in New Zealand.

Since then, aluminium prices have fallen steeply on global markets, while on the domestic front, Meridian and other electricity generators are heading into their sixth year of flat demand as the New Zealand economy undergoes a sluggish recovery and industrial users contract, invest in efficiencies, and seek alternative fuel sources.

"We have reviewed the contracts some time ago and have advised Rio Tinto of areas in which we are prepared to look at some amendments, and areas where are we not prepared to look at amendments," said Binns. "I can't elaborate on where we have drawn the line."

The existing contracts contain fixed and variable portions, with the electricity price influenced by a formula that takes into account international aluminium prices.

Rio Tinto Alcan, the Canada-based aluminium arm of the Anglo-Australian metals giant, is seeking to sell its interest in the smelter at Tiwai Point, along with a clutch of other, relatively ageing smelters in Australia and has packaged the assets as a new subsidiary, Pacific Aluminium. Rio has indicated it does not expect a quick sale.

Binns would not confirm comments by Prime Minister John Key that the first three years of the contract arrangements were set in stone, except to say that "the Prime Minister's not a silly man" and that there was no question that the new contracts would come into force from Jan. 1.

On criticisms from competitors of the company's decision earlier this year to build the Mill Creek wind farm behind Wellington, Binns conceded the project was "on the cusp" of commercial viability "in a negative scenario", but that the board and senior management were confident it would earn its cost of capital.

"On balance, we thought it would be overall positive," he said.

He took a poke at Dennis Barnes, the chief executive of NZX-listed rival Contact Energy, saying Meridian could have questioned its decisions to build gas storage facilities in Taranaki and the new Te Mihi geothermal plant at Wairakei.

"We could be critical but I won't be" because Meridian was no closer to the detail of Contact's business than Contact is to Meridian's.

"I suppose the last guy who built the last power station will always criticise the next guy," he said. Meridian green-lit the $169 million, 26 turbine project in June.

As the largest and most valuable government-owned electricity company, Binns said Meridian was ready for partial privatisation in the event the government decided to proceed with a sale, and that it had established a permanent "due diligence room" allowing all relevant company records to be kept up to date.

In an update on Meridian's outlook, Binns confirmed that Meridian's half year profit to Dec. 30 would be lower than last year's, as flagged, but not as low as had been originally thought. The company would exceed its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and movements in the value of financial instruments for the year to June 30.

He expected a few anxious months while Transpower commissioned the new Cook Strait electricity cable early next year, since any unforeseen outages could hit earnings, and the company "can't wait" for the transmission constraints between the two islands to disappear once the new connection, called Pole 3, to go live.

Unlike some other industry participants, Meridian supported the Electricity Authority's recent draft decisions on how to share the cost of transmission among generators, and had been advocating such an approach for some years. It would submit that some elements of the proposals could be simplified, said Binns.

(BusinessDesk)

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Half Empty: Fonterra's 2017 Opening Forecast Below Expectations

Fonterra Cooperative Group raised its forecast farmgate milk payout for next season by less than expected as the world's largest dairy exporter predicts lower prices will crimp production and supply will pick up. The New Zealand dollar fell. More>>

ALSO:

Pest Control: Mouse Blitz Team Leaves For Antipodes

The Million Dollar Mouse project to rid Antipodes Island of mice is underway with the departure of a rodent eradication team to the remote nature reserve and World Heritage Area. More>>

Gongs Got: Canon Media Awards & NZ Radio Awards Happen

Radio NZ: RNZ website The Wireless, which is co-funded by NZ On Air, was named best website, while Toby Manhire and Toby Morris won the best opinion general writing section for their weekly column on rnz.co.nz and Tess McClure won the best junior feature writer section. More>>

ALSO:

Pre-Budget: Debt Focus Risks Losing Opportunity To Stoke Economy

The Treasury is likely to upgrade its forecasts for economic growth in Budget 2016 next week but Finance Minister Bill English has already signalled that more of his focus is on debt repayment than on fiscal stimulus or tax cuts... More>>

ALSO:

Fulton Hogan's Heroes: Managing Director Nick Miller Resigns

Fulton Hogan managing director Nick Miller will leave the privately owned construction company after seven years in charge. The Dunedin-based company has kicked off a search for a replacement, and Miller will stay on at the helm until March next year, or until a successor has been appointed and a transition period completed. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On Electricity, Executions, And Bob Dylan

The Electricity Authority has unveiled the final version of its pricing plan for electricity transmission. This will change the way transmission prices (which comprise about 10% of the average power bill) are computed, and will add hundreds of dollars a year to power bills for many ordinary consumers. More>>

ALSO:

Half Empty: Fonterra NZ, Australia Milk Collection Drops In Season

Fonterra Cooperative Group says milk collection is down in New Zealand and Australia, its two largest markets, in the first 11 months of the season during a period of weak dairy prices. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Business
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news