Tiwai Point lies at the entrance to Bluff Harbour on the southern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. A spit which extends from the western end of the Awarua Plain, it lies between Awarua Bay to the north and Foveaux Strait to the south. It is famous for the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter, one of the largest industrial facilities in New Zealand.
Background and ownership
The Tiwai Point aluminium smelter is owned by New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited, which is owned by Rio Tinto Aluminium (RTA) (79.36%) and the Sumitomo Chemical Company (20.64%). Greta Stevens is the current General Manager Operations (as of 2013).
The Tiwai Point smelter was opened in 1971. According to Rio Tinto Alcan, it provides NZ$3.65 billion worth of economic benefit to the New Zealand economy. It produces the world's highest purity primary (i.e. directly refined made from alumina ore) aluminium. The ore is mostly imported from Australia, while the finished product mostly goes to Japan.
The smelter currently consists of 3 lines of P69 technology cells, with 208 cells each (i.e. 624 total), and one line of 48 CD200 technology cells. In 2011 the smelter produced a record amount of aluminium, 354,030 saleable tonnes. The previous record production was 352,976 tonnes in 2007. In 2009, approximately 750 full-time personnel were employed, and 120 contractors. Metal production was 271,902 tonnes. The third P69 Line was built in the early 1980s as part of Muldoon government's "Think Big" projects.
Taken from the Statistical Review of Comalco's New Zealand Activities, page 22 of the 1993 Annual Report.
Year Tonnes Aluminium Price Nett Profit Employees 1979 153,537 1575 -1,172,000 1,252 1980 154,740 1770 17,470,000 1,258 1981 153,979 1302 2,941,000 1,359 1982 163,419 1026 -20,698,000 1,452 1983 218,609 1478 -9,665,000 1,651 1984 242,850 1281 1,766,000 1,631 1985 240,835 1072 -24,772,000 1,529 1986 236,332 1160 -18,188,000 1,506 1987 248,365 1496 92,570,000 1,429 1988 257,006 2367 173,040,000 1,770 1989 258,359 1915 118,500,000 1,820 1990 259,408 1635 42,051,000 1,720 1991 258,790 1333 -34,122,000 1,465 1992 241,775 1279 -18,649,000 1,415 1993 267,200 1161 -18,016,000 1,465
The smelter production is in tonnes of saleable metal, the aluminium price is the average London Metal Exchange 3 month in US$/tonne, the Nett Profit/Loss is after tax and NZ$. The employee count includes contract employees and the full-time equivalent of part-time employees. Comalco-CHH Aluminium employees are not included from 1990; 425 were employed in 1993.
Note that for aluminium to be sold, bauxite must be imported.
The smelter's maximum power demand from the national grid is up to 610 MW. Most of the energy for the smelter is supplied from the Manapouri hydroelectric power station, via two double circuit 220 kV transmission lines. The perceived reliability of energy supply from Manapouri played a major role in the choice of building the aluminium smelter in Southland, with both the power plant and the smelter having been constructed as co-ordinated projects. The facility is the largest electricity consumer in New Zealand, and uses approximately one third of the total electricity consumed in the South Island and 15% of the total electricity nationwide.
New Zealand Aluminium Smelters has a contract for electricity supply with Meridian Energy for the continuous supply of 572 megawatts for the period 2013 to 2030.
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 in terms of low emissions. In 2007, 1.97 tonnes of carbon dioxide were released for every tonne of aluminium produced. The basic reaction is Al2O3 → 2Al + 3O as in the Hall-Héroult process; if all the oxygen at the red-hot carbon anode becomes carbon monoxide (that subsequently becomes carbon dioxide) then for one tonne of aluminium, 1.55 tonnes of CO would result, becoming 2.4 tonnes of CO2. However if all the oxygen went directly to CO2, then 1.56 tonnes of CO2 would result. At the stated rate of 1.97 tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of aluminium, the production of 272,000 tonnes of aluminium in a year would emit 535,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Many other compounds are formed, plus particulates: these may be filtered out or simply vented to the atmosphere.
In 2008, Rio Tinto Aluminium was declared the second worst transnational corporation in New Zealand, in the Roger Awards for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This was due to its threat to close the smelter if the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme went ahead.  The smelter emitted about 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases (measured as carbon dioxide equivalents) in 2010.
Rio Tinto has threatened to close the Tiwai Point smelter if it can't get a cheaper deal for electricity from retailer Meridian, or the Government fails to give it a substantial subsidy to cover recent losses due to the strengthening Kiwi dollar and a fall in aluminium prices. Between 2008 and 2013, aluminium prices fell by more than 30 percent.
Much media commentary in April 2013 focused on the impact of closure on both domestic power prices and share prices when the State Owned Enterprise and electricity generator Mighty River Power would be partially sold off to private investors.
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said it was a myth that closing the smelter, which uses around 15 percent of the country's electricity, would result in lower prices, and has vowed to keep it open.
Tiwai Rocks Important Bird Area
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- Horton, Murray (May 2009), Tobacco Merchant Of Death Wins 2008 Roger Award (120), Foreign Control Watchdog, retrieved 24 August 2011
- "The 2008 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand". CAFCA. 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
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- "Rio Tinto rejects Govt's subsidy offer". 3 News NZ. April 2, 2013.
- "Smelter's woes blamed on excess supply". 3 News NZ. April 3, 2013.
- "John Key's Game of Two Halves". SST. April 7, 2013.
- "Tim Shadbolt vows to save smelter". 3 News NZ. April 5, 2013.
- BirdLife International. (2012). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tiwai Rocks. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 2012-02-05.