Solid Energy Chairman Mark Ford confirmed on National Radio this morning (Friday 22 Feb) that they are dropping the lignite projects in Southland. This was welcomed by all of us who have fought a long campaign against a very aggressive company with our limited financial resources. While international markets played a significant part in this decision, it does seem odd that they would invest $29 million in the pilot briquetting plant when they had no buyers for the product and it provided few jobs.
Don Elder has become another statistic in a line of Government appointed CEO's who have been found wanting in their governance. We have found with the dire financial situation of Solid Energy how the governance culture that National has encouraged, has serious flaws. This company paid huge salaries and bonuses to its CEO and managers while treating those who worked on the coalface of the industry with some disdain. Governance decisions in the company were based on an ideology that was from a past era of fossil fuel dominance and ignored the global shift to more sustainable ways of operating. In attempting to access the lignite in Southland, Solid Energy also ignored the Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, whose report strongly advised against mining this low value energy source.
The National Government sought to model our economy on Australia's, where coal had provided considerable wealth, and ignored the fact that the industry was unsustainable and had a limited life. John Key's experience as money trader has limited his vision to always going for quick profits and lining your pockets while you can. This boom and bust philosophy only works for those on the top who ensure that they retain the money made during the profitable times then get out quickly when things turn to custard. Don Elder abandoned the sinking ship he had captained with his bonuses in his pockets leaving staff and workers to make what they can of the wreck that remains.
Southland has been lucky that the Solid Energy ship sank before it was able to berth in our region. We could have ended up like the many destroyed rural communities in Australia and the US, where coal mining has not only permanently damaged the local environment but destroyed local communities as well. Our region can now concentrate on developing a more sustainable future along the lines recommended by the BERL report.
Hunter Valley, Australia