The Tiwai Point Subsidy

By Seamus Hogan 09/08/2013


Matt and Paul have both covered the subsidy to Rio Tinto that facilitated a new contract between RT and Meridian Power. There is not a lot to say about the actual policy; Matt’s “Urg” pretty much sums it up. But a few points about the politics of this are worth noting. 

  1. There was nothing inherently wrong about the a long-term contract between Meridian and Rio Tinto at favourable rates. I believe that in the past transmission constraints meant that the opportunity cost of power delivered to Rio Tinto was not necessarily the wholesale price elsewhere on the grid. And I also understand that the smelter was drawing power fairly evenly throughout the day rather than mostly at times of peak demand. I stand to be corrected on both those points, and maybe Meridian negotiated poorly in the past, but, absent government subsidies in the past, these were normal commercial transactions that should not colour our opinion about the subsidy announced yesterday. That subsidy should be criticised on its own merits. 
  2. It is hard to believe that the decision was not affected by the political capital the government has tied up in its asset sales programme. Again, however, that should not colour our opinions about the policy. The policy would not be any better if it were motivated by different objectives. 
  3. Labour are totally on the right side on this one, but it is notable that Clatyon Cosgrove’s reaction reported in this Stuff article, framed things entirely in terms of it using taxpayer’s money to facilitate the partial sale of Meridian. It would be good to hear a clear statement from Labour that they are opposed to corporate welfare of any kind, and, if it were them, they would have just let Rio Tinto close down the smelter. As it stands, they might be saying that National paid a subsidy for the wrong reasons, but they would have done the same in order to protect jobs in Southland. I haven’t seen the news coverage. Has anyone seen if a journalist has put this question to Labour?