Businesses and government are going to have to work more closely if the country is to benefit from its natural advantages in a low-carbon world, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Speaking at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter today, she said the government’s 2050 net zero carbon target will not be easy to meet.
Firms like the smelter, which has halved its on-site emissions since 1990, will have to keep looking for more ways to maximise their energy productivity, she said.
The government can assist with funding for innovation, through its research and development tax credits and the $100 million Green Investment Finance fund it has established. But she said those government initiatives alone won’t get the country to that 2050 target.
“We do need to continue working together so that we can take advantage of demand for greener, more sustainable low-carbon products,” she told more than 100 guests at an event marking the resumption of production at the smelter’s fourth potline.
“But we also have to do it in partnership with business, in partnership with communities, and in partnership with local government, because quite frankly, government cannot meet this challenge on its own.”
The smelter at Bluff is the country’s biggest electricity user, accounting for about 13 percent of national demand. It is also the largest single-site exporter, bringing in about $1.3 billion of export receipts annually.
Rio Tinto, which owns 79.4 percent of the plant, has invested about $6 million upgrading and restarting the potline shut six years ago due to high power costs and low aluminium prices.
Kellie Parker, chief operating officer of Rio’s Pacific operations, said the restart and increased orders for other products had enabled the firm to take on 45 new staff.
In May, when the firm announced a new 50 MW power supply from Meridian Energy to power the line, the company had expected to take on 32 new workers.
Operator New Zealand Aluminium Smelters has been working hard the past six years cutting costs and finding smarter ways to reduce per-tonne power use. It delivered 338,556 tonnes of aluminium in 2016 – a record for the three-line operation – and, with the 31,000 tonnes expected from line four, should comfortably surpass the site’s previous production record of 354,030 tonnes set in 2011.
Both Ardern and Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods acknowledged the smelter’s role as a major export earner and regional employer. Its carbon footprint is also among the smallest of aluminium smelters globally.
Woods said the government is keenly aware of the need of large industrial sites for reliable, affordable, 24-hour a day power supplies.
The planned transition to 100 percent renewable power generation – in a year of normal hydrology – by 2035 has to be done “without compromising security of supply or the affordability of electricity,” she said.
Woods said large industrial players will also have a key role to play as the country looks to transition its productive sector to lower-carbon technologies.
“The world needs aluminium and the world needs large industrials. But we also need to step up to the challenges that climate change has created and I would encourage you to continue to explore the opportunities to innovate and improve your energy use.”