News that Rio Tinto is reviewing its Tiwai point operations has wiped about $1.5 billion off the value of New Zealand's listed power companies this morning.

Meridian - the primary supplier to Tiwai - has fallen more than 7.75 per cent ($680m) to $5.01.

The prospect of surplus power supply and falling prices if Tiwai closes has also seen Mercury, Contact and Genesis fall by about five per cent.

Energy Minister Megan Woods has warned the owners of the Tiwai aluminium smelter not to expect taxpayer funds to help it remain open.


The owners of the aluminium smelter said on Wednesday that there were seeking talks with the Government amid a strategic review which could see the operation closed.

Rio Tinto said it would "will conduct a strategic review of its interest in New Zealand's Aluminium Smelter [NZAS] at Tiwai Point, to determine the operation's ongoing viability and competitive position".

This would include talks with the Government and electricity suppliers.

Meridian Energy, which supplies electricity to the smelter, said the review options included closure.

But in a statement, a spokesman for Woods described the review as "a commercial process by a commercial operator" and signalled there should not be an expectation of a bail out.

The Tiwai Pt smelter uses about 14 per cent of the country's electricity output. Photo / file
The Tiwai Pt smelter uses about 14 per cent of the country's electricity output. Photo / file

"We hope that these discussions and work by NZAS and Rio Tinto result in the smelter remaining open and continuing to back the Southland economy by trading on its position as producing the world's greenest, low-carbon aluminium," Woods said.

"The New Zealand Government has had a clear position since 2013 under the Key/English Government that there will be no more financial assistance from taxpayers for Rio Tinto, which is already supported by Meridian for the power it uses. This hasn't changed."

Opened in 1971, the smelter is New Zealand's largest electricity user, consuming around 14 per cent of total generation, mainly from the nearby Manapōuri Power Station.


The smelter says that, including contractors, it employs around 1000 people.

Rio Tinto said "under current market conditions and with high energy costs, we expect the short to medium outlook for the aluminium industry to be challenging and this asset to continue to be unprofitable.

"Rio Tinto intends to hold discussions with the Government of New Zealand and energy providers to explore options and identify economically viable solutions to find a pathway to profitability for the asset."

Meridian Energy first announced the review in a notice to shareholders this morning.

"The review will consider all options for the future of the smelter, including the option of closure," Meridian said in a statement.

"Rio Tinto has advised Meridian that it will provide the market with an update on the strategic review by the end of the first quarter in 2020."