Southlanders are expressing relief after a deal was reached to keep the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter open.
Mining conglomerate Rio Tinto announced last year it was closing Tiwai in August this year due to high energy and transmission costs.
But it has struck a deal with Meridian Energy to keep operating until the end of 2024.
Southland Mayoral Forum chairperson Tracy Hicks said the announcement is a positive start to the new year.
“We’ve got a lot of people who are absolutely thrilled – the workers feel like they have some certainty around what their future will be.”
Hicks said the extension means other opportunities for the industry in the region can be explored.
“The one that has been talked about a lot is green hydrogen energy – we would be in the position to produce something that isn’t done anywhere else in this part of the world.
“There’s an opportunity not only for transport fuels for the south and all of New Zealand but also in an export sense.”
E tū Union spokesman Joe Gallagher said the smelter is at the centre of community and creates hundreds of jobs – not just the thousand people directly employed there.
“It’s all the doctors, nurses, teachers, shop owners – they would all be impacted – it’s all the people that come to Tiwai and do the maintenance and spend a bit of money in town on their way home.”
Gallager said workers at the smelter are happy they can now look forward.
“Everyone now has the opportunity, the company, the community and the workers to sit and down and say right we have this transition and we have three years, how can we take this beyond 2024, what would that look like and how would be do it,” he said.
One of the supporting businesses that could be crippled if the smelter closed this year is Food at Clifton – the last truck stop between Invercargill and the smelter.
Manager Susan Brown said if the smelter closed the business would suffer huge losses.
“Because we get a lot of the contractors and then a lot of the actual Tiwai staff calling through for their coffee and lunches on the way to work.
“We do a lot of catering for them as well, so if it was to close it would cut down our business by quiet a considerable amount”
Brown said the news of it staying open is the talk of the town.
“A lot of guys when they come in here they chat about it – and say how they don’t know what they would do if it shut.
“People were getting really worried so it’s good to see that it’s staying open – it creates a lot of jobs for people,” Brown said.