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Rio Tinto Departure Makes Decarbonisation Projects 'shovel Ready'

Today’s Tiwai Point closure announcement will result in cheaper electricity for New Zealand households and the chance to swiftly decarbonise transport and industry, says Greenpeace.

Rio Tinto’s smelter, which uses 13 percent of New Zealand’s electricity, is now due to close in August 2021. Greenpeace Executive Director, Dr Russel Norman, says the Tiwai closure will release a huge amount of low-carbon and affordable power back onto the grid.

"The Tiwai closure will mean cheaper power for New Zealand households. It also means there is more clean, renewable energy that can be used to power our cars and industries as we move to a zero carbon economy.

"This will cut climate emissions out of the transport and industrial sectors, while simultaneously helping to reduce New Zealand’s current account deficit by cutting the billions of dollars we spend on importing oil for the transport sector.

"Transpower is already developing the transmission capacity to bring the surplus power north via the Clutha Upper Waitaki Lines project which already has approval.

"With a ready supply of clean and affordable hydropower now being made available, the Government should create the conditions needed to increase the number of electric cars, buses and trains."

Norman also says Rio Tinto’s departure blows any case for new coal, gas or oil development completely out of the water.

"The argument for more fossil fuel exploration, extraction and generation is over."

Norman says the Government needs to move quickly to develop a plan to deal with the Tiwai closure. This includes ensuring a just transition for workers in the region.

"The market isn’t going to solve this. We need the Government to manage the transition of both the energy sector and the Southland community through what is a significant time of upheaval.

The Government must use its Covid Recovery Budget to invest in new job opportunities for those affected."

Norman said the Tiwai Point smelter has only survived this long because of massive handouts from the Government, cheap power - subsidised through higher household energy bills - and exemptions in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

"Every few years, Rio Tinto has had the Government and the power companies over a barrel, threatening to leave more than a thousand people jobless if they didn’t receive Government subsidies and rock-bottom power prices.

"Contact energy has been on the record confirming that they offered cut-price electricity to Rio Tinto in order to keep wholesale prices high in the broader electricity market, costing New Zealand households everyday through their power bills.

"Just last week, we all found out that Meridian had been manipulating the market to line their pockets by ripping off New Zealand households. These companies haven’t been looking out for the team of five million. Government leadership is needed to fix our broken energy system so that it’s both cleaner and fairer."

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