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Coal Action Network Aotearoa (Cana) members chained themselves to the gates of Fonterra's Clandeboye plant in January last year, in protest against Fonterra's use of coal. PHOTO: ALEXIA JOHNSTON

The use of coal at Fonterra’s Clandeboye dairy plant is still up for discussion, a year after protesters chained themselves to the factory’s fence in protest.

Coal Action Network Aotearoa (Cana) members, including former Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, protested against Fonterra’s use of coal in January last year, claiming there were more environmentally friendly methods of drying the milk used for milk powder.

Dunedin-based Cana member Rosemary Penwarden said it had been an “interesting year” for the group, whose protest had brought about a direct response from Fonterra.

She said while Fonterra representatives had said they also wanted to move away from using coal and had released new emission-reduction targets in November, the Cana representatives did not “buy it”.

“It’s PR spin as usual.”

Fonterra sustainability and resources general manager Ian Goldschmidt said the company had set a target of not installing any new coal boilers from 2030, he said.

“We will only use coal as a last resort, with a preference for renewable energy for new activities between now and 2030.”

Ms Penwarden pointed out coal boilers had a long lifetime, meaning the company could still be burning coal until 2070.

“There are plenty of options and no excuses.”

Mr Goldschmidt said the reason Fonterra continued using coal in its South Island plants was that, unlike in the North Island, there were no natural gas sources the factory could use.

While Fonterra was exploring electricity-powered burners, the infrastructure and technology required was not viable at present, but the company was also trialling the use of wood biomass in existing coal boilers, he said.

This would reduce Fonterra’s use of coal where possible, while the company worked on phasing coal out of its production processes.

“Transitioning our sites from coal to a renewable alternative has to be a phased approach.

“We are taking a site-by-site approach and staggering our transition to renewables in a way that is economic and sustainable.”