By Stephen Wright
WELLINGTON, New Zealand--New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised her government will negotiate a three- to five-year delay in the closure of Rio Tinto's Tiwai Point aluminum smelter, as she campaigns for reelection.
Rio Tinto Ltd. has said New Zealand's sole aluminum smelter is not economically viable and plans to close it in August 2021, jeopardizing several thousand jobs in the Southland region where it is located. The smelter consumes about 13% of New Zealand's electricity.
Delaying the smelter's closure would allow more time for the region to develop new industries, Ms. Ardern said Monday.
Ms. Ardern's governing center-left Labour Party has a substantial lead in opinion polls ahead of the national vote on Oct. 17.
Negotiations with Rio Tinto would focus on maintaining the smelter's workforce, eventual remediation of the smelter site and lowering the price it pays for transmission of electricity from the nearby Manapouri hydro dam, Ms. Ardern said.
Rio Tinto has argued it is paying too much for electricity transmission and subsidizing other industrial users given its proximity to Manapouri, which is operated by Meridian Energy Ltd.
Ms. Ardern said the government could provide support to state-owned electricity grid operator Transpower Ltd., which would allow it reduce the smelter's bill without passing the cost to other power consumers.
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