New Zealand Aluminium Smelters

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New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited owns and operates the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. The company is a joint venture between Rio Tinto Alcan New Zealand Limited, (formerly known as Comalco[1]) (79.36 per cent share) and the Sumitomo Chemical Company (20.64 per cent share).[2] Rio Tinto Alcan New Zealand Limited is the manager of the smelter and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto Aluminium.[3] Ryan Cavanagh is the current General Manager (as of 2012).[4]


The smelter, located at Tiwai Point on the southern coast of the South Island, was opened in 1971 after a joint venture construction (50% Comalco, 25% Sumitomo Chemical Company and 25% Showa Denko KK).[5] Comalco later purchased Showa Denko's share in April 1986.[6] It is one of the 20 largest aluminium smelters in the world and, according to Rio Tinto Alcan, it provides NZ$3.65 billion worth of economic benefit to the New Zealand economy.[7] It produces the world's highest purity primary (i.e. directly refined made from alumina ore) aluminium. The ore is mostly imported from Australia, while the finished product mostly goes to Japan.[7]


The smelter currently consists of 3 lines of P69 technology cells, with 208 cells each (i.e. 624 total), and one line of 48 CD200 technology cells. In 2011 the smelter produced a record amount of aluminium, 354,030 saleable tonnes. The previous record production was 352,976 tonnes in 2007.[8] In 2009, the smelter's production was 271,902 tonnes of aluminium and that year it employed approximately 750 full-time personnel and 120 contractors.[7] The third P69 Line was built in the early 1980s as part of Muldoon government's "Think Big" projects.


The smelter uses up to 610MW of electricity which is mostly supplied by the hydroelectric Manapouri Power Station. The perceived reliability of power from Manapouri played a major role in the choice of building the aluminium smelter in Southland,[7] with both the power plant and the smelter having been constructed as a joint project. The facility is the largest electricity consumer in New Zealand, and uses approximately one third of the total power of the South Island and 15% of the total power countrywide.

The electricity contract with Meridian Energy (and its predecessors) has long been criticised as being secret and effectively a tax-payer funded subsidy (or corporate welfare) for a large transnational corporation.[9] In 2007 New Zealand Aluminium Smelters negotiated a new contract for electricity supply with Meridian Energy for the continuous supply of 572 megawatts for the period 2013 to 2030.[2] Prior to the contract negotiation, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters had said that it could obtain electricity from a coal-fired station at less than 7 cents per kilowatt hour.[10] In 2007, the new contract price was estimated to be 4.7 cents per kilowatt hour or one quarter of the price charged to the domestic consumer.[9][10]


In 2007, Tom Campbell, the chief executive of majority owner Rio Tinto Aluminium NZ, said that the smelter was amongst the top 5% of the world's 250 aluminium smelters worldwide in terms of low emissions.[2] In 2007, 1.97 tonnes of carbon dioxide was released for every tonne of aluminium produced.[3]

In 2008, Rio Tinto Alcan NZ Ltd threatened to close the smelter if the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme went ahead.[11][12][13] In response, Rio Tinto Aluminium NZ was declared the second worst transnational corporation operating in New Zealand, in the Roger Awards for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand.[14] [15] The smelter emitted about 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases (measured as carbon dioxide equivalents) in 2010.[16]

New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited won the 2011 Roger Award for receiving large free allocations of emissions units under the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme.[17]

Proposed sale[edit]

In October 2011, Rio Tinto Alcan announced its intention to transfer New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd and several Australian assets into a new entity to be called Pacific Aluminium. This entity would be managed separately until it is sold.[18]

In an announcement to the New Zealand Stock Exchange on 9 August 2012, Meridian Energy advised that it had been approached by Pacific Aluminium, a business unit of Rio Tinto Ltd, the majority shareholder of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (NZAS), to discuss potential changes to the electricity contract with the smelter that was renegotiated in 2007, and was to take effect in January 2013.[19]

In 2013, Rio Tinto threatened to shut down the loss-making Tiwai Point smelter, unless it was able to continue re-negotiating favourable electricity prices with Meridian Energy.[20] Meridian is one of several stated-owned enterprises proposed for a partial float on the sharemarket by the John Key National Government, which wants to get the maximum possible sale price, and which would also be potentially in conflict with Rio Tinto's desire for low electricity prices. As a result, the Government announced it would subsidise Rio Tinto to keep the Tiwai Point smelter operating in the short term.,[21][22] garnering criticism from business commentators and Opposition politicians.[23] However, on 2 April 2013, John Key said Rio Tinto had rejected the Government's offer, preferring a "longer-term deal than the Government was prepared to offer".[24][25] John Key stated that if the smelter can't sustain itself financially, the government wasn't interested in keeping it open long-term.[26]


  1. ^ "Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ)". 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Bennett, Adam (3 October 2007). "Meridian boss hails deal with smelter". New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 25 August 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "NZAS Sustainable development report". New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited. 2007. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  4. ^ Fairfax NZ News (17 February 2012). "Tiwai Point Smelter Faces Half A Million Dollars". The Southland Times. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  5. ^ Fox, Aaron (2001). "The power game : the development of the Manapouri-Tiwai Point electro-industrial complex, 1904-1969". Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy. University of Otago. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  6. ^ Lind, Clive (1996). The People and the Power. Invercargill: New Zealand Aluminium Smelters. p. 248. 
  7. ^ a b c d "New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited". Rio Tinto Alcan. 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  8. ^ "Aluminium record set in 2011". Radio New Zealand. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Tiwai Point Smelter: Pull The Plug On Corporate Welfare" (Press release). CAFCA. 3 October 2007. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Fairfax NZ News (2 October 2007). "Bluff aluminium smelter and Meridian in secret deal". Stuff. Retrieved 20 September 2012. The new contract - understood to be about 4.7c a unit 
  11. ^ "Rio Tinto Alcan (New Zealand) Ltd Submission to Finance & Expenditure Select Committee re Climate Change (Emissions Trading & Renewable Preference) Bill - Key Points" (Press release). Rio Tinto Alcan (New Zealand) Ltd. 13 May 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  12. ^ NZPA (13 May 2008). "Tiwai point owners say closure and job losses likely under ETS". The National Business Review. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  13. ^ Fallow, Brian (13 May 2008). "Emissions scheme 'threat to smelter'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  14. ^ Horton, Murray (May 2009), Tobacco Merchant Of Death Wins 2008 Roger Award (120), Foreign Control Watchdog, retrieved 24 August 2011 
  15. ^ "The 2008 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand". CAFCA. 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "NZAS Sustainable development report". New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited. 2010. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  17. ^ "Rio Tinto Alcan NZ wins Westpac, Sajo Oyang & Oceania all equal runners up Government wins accomplice award" (Press release). Campaign Against Foreign Control and Ownership of Aotearoa and Gatt Watchdog. 2012-04-21. Retrieved 2012-04-22. 
  18. ^ "Rio Tinto streamlines Aluminium product group" (Press release). Rio Tinto Alcan. 17 October 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  19. ^ "New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd electricity contract" (Press release). Meridian Energy. 9 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012. 
  20. ^ Patrick Gower (28 March 2013). "Rio Tinto's threats over asset sales". 3 News. 
  21. ^ Collette Devlin (30 March 2013). "Rio Tinto plays tough". The Southland Times. 
  22. ^ Pattrick Smellie (28 March 2013). "Short-term subsidies only for smelter, Ryall says". BusinessDesk. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  23. ^ "Rio Tinto's threats over asset sales". 3 News NZ. 28 March 2013. 
  24. ^ Adam Bennett (2 April 2013). "Rio Tinto rejects Tiwai subsidy offer". The Herald. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  25. ^ Tracy Watkins (2 April 2013). "Smelter firm subsidy talks stall". Fairfax NZ News. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  26. ^ "Rio Tinto rejects Govt's subsidy offer". 3 News NZ. 2 April 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 

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