MAC: Mines and Communities

Pull The Plug On Comalco & Close The Bluff Smelter

Published by MAC on 2003-05-23

A Simple Solution to the Power Crisis -
Pull The Plug On Comalco & Close The Bluff Smelter

23 May 2003


The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) congratulates the Government on belatedly realising that "the market" was never going to do anything about shortfalls in electricity supply. The power companies have a vested interest in maximising their profits and returns to their shareholders, and no responsibility for a guaranteed supply. So, once again, the wheel has to be reinvented and the State assume a hands on role in the essential sector of power supply.

While the Government is about the business of sorting out the mess that the past two decades of ideological madness have made of the electricity system, it could solve the current shortage by one simple move – by pulling the plug on Comalco and closing the Bluff aluminium smelter.

That smelter is the single biggest electricity user in New Zealand, consuming around 15% of the country’s power. From its inception, more than 30 years ago, the Bluff aluminium smelter and Comalco have had a sweetheart deal with whatever Government is in office. It has a special (and still secret) price for its electricity. It has a deal unavailable to anyone else. Comalco has never hesitated to cite that advantage as the sole reason for its staying in NZ, as opposed to relocating offshore.

Last time there was a crisis, the Government paid the company to close one potline at the smelter. We suggest that they go the whole hog and close the place down. Obviously there would be some job losses but the Government could justify it as being in the national interest. Over the three decades of its controversial existence, the smelter has proven to be good for Southland but very definitely bad for New Zealand. To use an unparliamentary phrase, we get sweet bugger all out of its operation in our country. Until well into the 1980s, it didn’t even pay tax.

Comalco has always existed in its own parallel universe, within New Zealand. None of the New Right buzzwords of transparency or accountability apply to it. Indeed, it is out of step with the ideologues, as it wants continued cushy treatment from Government, such as super cheap power, at a top secret price. So while we are being exhorted by politicians, civic worthies and celebrities to eat cold porridge by candelight, the solution to the electricity shortage is obvious – shut down this parasite that has been draining 15% of our national grid for more than 30 years. That would free up a huge block of electricity to be used much more productively than subsidising one of the world’s biggest transnational corporations.

Murray Horton
CAFCA (Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa)
Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand

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