Protesters 'tried to chuck a big cream pie in my face' - CEO

State-owned coal miner Solid Energy held an annual meeting for the first time today, saying it wasn't a hint about privatisation or an invitation to protest.

The "stakeholder" meeting in the end did not resemble a typical shareholder meeting as protesters stormed the stage.

"They tried to chuck a great big cream pie in my face from point blank range and didn't succeed," said chief executive Don Elder.

"I knocked their arm and they missed and they tried to pour coal over me but I managed to grab the bag out of their hands," he said.

The Save Happy Valley Coalition said the meeting was a stunt. The group staged a stunt itself, four dressing up as Santa Claus to highlight its belief that the coal industry was in a fantasy world perpetuating a myth of "clean coal".

"What was needed was another fantasy character to help bring Solid Energy back to reality," the coalition said.

Mr Elder said the coalition was invited but a group of them disrupted the meeting and were removed by security at the Langham Hotel.

About 150 people turned up for the annual meeting. The audience included shareholding minister Simon Power and Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee.

"The rationale for the meeting is to improve the understanding of what we are doing as a company," said chairman John Palmer.

He said it was an opportunity for the board and management to be subjected to the sort of scrutiny that businesses of size, particularly those in public ownership, were subjected to regularly.

"By using a more standard public company reporting format, it should not be implied that we have an expectation about the privatisation or partial privatisation of state-owned enterprises in general and Solid Energy in particular," Mr Palmer said.

Dr Elder said executives from other energy companies and customers attended the meeting. The NZ Shareholders' Association was invited but no questioners identified themselves as members of the association.

There was good news for the government shareholder as the company said it expected dividend and dividend provisions in the current year to exceed $100m.

The company paid a dividend of $34.4m to the Crown on October 31 for the 2008 year.

Dr Elder said Solid Energy wanted to be transparent. Most of the questions were about strategic, rather than operational issues.

The protesters said the company planned to turn the pristine wilderness of Happy Valley on the South Island's West Coast into an open cast coal mine, killing endangered species.

- NZPA

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