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Taxpayers kiss goodbye to $128m bailout for Solid Energy

The demise of Solid Energy has cost taxpayers more than $100 million and the Government won't get the money back.

The debt-laden state owned mining company is being put into voluntary administration, ahead of an assets sell-off, with workers keeping their jobs, for now.

In six years, Solid Energy has gone from a $3 billion company to a State Owned Enterprise worth nothing.

Solid Energy has cost the taxpayer more than $100 million. Source: 1 NEWS

"Any taxpayer value in the company is gone," says Finance Minister Bill English.

But Labour's State-Owned Enterprises spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, says the Government doesn't want to be accountable for Solid Energy.

He says no minister or board member has been sacked and no management disciplined, rather, "they got golden handshakes".

But it gets worse.  Taxpayers will kiss goodbye to $128 million of Government bailout money. 

"The Government is not in line to recover anything from the sale of the assets. The banks and other creditors as appropriate would be ahead of us," Mr English says. 

And the banks are owed $300 million.

Why did they do absolutely nothing? - Clayton Cosgrove, Labour's State-Owned Enterprises spokesman

"The banks have taken a hit. I mean the taxpayer has lost its value. But we're not putting more money in, so we've stopped," Mr English says. 

Six years ago, Solid Energy was riding high, employing over 1200 staff and making $70 million a year. 

But its star CEO, Don Elder, was also investing in high-risk ventures like biofuels and flashy headquarters.  

And when the coal price crashed there was too much debt to survive. 

"That price has gone from $320 a tonne down to $85 a tonne this week. With the debt and the price forecast, this is no longer sustainable," Todd McClay, State Owned Enterprises Minister told Parliament. 

But Labour says the Government was asleep at the wheel, Mr Cosgrove asking: "Why, when they saw that happen, why did they not react? Why did they do absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing."

Solid Energy's failure ranks up there with the 1990 Bank of New Zealand bailout and Air New Zealand's bailout 10 years later.

Prime Minister John Key says it's been the right thing to "nurse the company through", pointing out "there's lots of employees and lots of people involved".

The Government insists voluntary administration is the best chance for mines to stay open.