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Hold Onto Transalta Shares Consumers Tell Trust

Most electricity consumers in the Hutt Mana area want their local energy trust to hold onto the shares they own in local power retailer TransAlta New Zealand Ltd.

Sixty two per cent of consumers questioned in a telephone survey over the past weekend want the Hutt Mana Energy Trust to continue to hold the shares in trust for the community while only 15 per cent of the consumers phoned want the shares sold.

Almost 23% of those questioned "did not know".

Key reasons for telling the Trust not to sell its shareholding were:

The loss of New Zealand ownership in TransAlta.

The price of electricity would probably rise.

* Consumers would not be able to play a direct role in decisions affecting the supply of electricity in the Hutt Mana region.

Only 10 per cent of those interviewed felt that the most important fact the Trust should take into account was the share price that TransAlta Canada was offering.

The telephone research, conducted by Wellington-based BRC Marketing and Social Research over the weekend, involved 500 people randomly selected for interview.

The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3%.

Trust chairman Chris Kirk-Burnnand said the research clearly supported the Trust's view that it was a long term shareholder in TransAlta.

The research was commissioned after TransAlta Canada had "sprung an offer" to buy the Trust's 12.5% shareholding in TransAlta New Zealand at $2.50 per share.

The company advised the Trust of its plans only hours before every consumer in the Hutt Mana region received a letter from TransAlta and the launching of an extensive regional newspaper advertising campaign - a move strongly criticised by the Trust as being "misleading and opportunist."

The Canadian company wants to buy out over 25,000 small shareholders in TransAlta NZ to achieve 100% control, but it can't compulsorily acquire these shares unless it can buy the Trust's shares.

Mr Kirk-Burnnand said that in spite of TransAlta's massive advertising campaign, the research showed only 20 per cent of consumers had bothered to respond to the company by mailing a coupon or calling a toll free line.

"TransAlta's glitzy campaign, orchestrated by a public relations firm associated at the highest level of Government, has obviously backfired," he said.

"Ordinary New Zealanders have seen through foreign-owned TransAlta Canada's blatant attempt to mislead consumers by suggesting a $1600 windfall would be available by Christmas if the Trust could be forced by public opinion to sell."

It was clear that consumers had concerns that the Trust would lose its public voice and any ability to influence decision-making should TransAlta NZ become a private unlisted company.

They were also concerned about the possibility of electricity price rises.


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