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Protest action . . . This group came to protest against the use of coal several years ago at Fonterra's Clandeboye plant. Among those who had chained themselves to one of the plant's factory gates were (from left) Rose Lovell-Smith, Rosemary Penwarden, Mike Dumbar, Janet Brady, Jeanette Fitzsimons and Jill Whitmore – all representing Coal Action Network Aotearoa. PHOTO: FILE

by Chris Tobin

Fonterra’s plan to cut back on its coal use means this fuel source will not be used to power a boiler to be installed at the company’s Studholme site.

Three years ago Environment Canterbury and the Waimate District Council approved Fonterra’s plan to build a 30-tonne/hour coal-fired boiler for Studholme.

The original intention was to build two boilers but this was reduced to one.

Coal had been the favoured fuel. With Fonterra’s announcement last week that has now been ruled out and wood biomass is the preferred option.

“We did not install any new boilers at Studholme. However, we did receive consent for two boilers in the future,” a Fonterra spokesman said.

“We are making a commitment not to increase our capacity to burn coal, and this includes our Studholme site.

“The consent we have allows us to use woody biomass to fire the boiler, so we will be keeping the consent for this purpose.”

At first Fonterra had sought consent for two 30 tonne-an-hour milk dryers, and a 66,750sqm dry powder store and a biological wastewater treatment plant.

It reduced the number of dryers to one and cut the size of its proposed dry store to 34,000sqm.

“It was obvious they haven’t the milk solids to warrant building it,” Cindy Baxter of the Coal Action Network Aotearoa said.

“They had been banking on dairying in the Mackenzie. Their drying plant at Lichfield is already running at half capacity, anyway, and they were not going to build much more.

“Fonterra’s coal use has possibly peaked, anyway.”

Fonterra has cut 11 years from its coal target after earlier setting a target of not installing any new coal boilers from 2030.

The co-operative will now not install any new coal-burning boilers as from last week, nor will it increase the coal burning capacity at its plants.

“At this stage there are no immediate changes to our operations at Clandeboye and Studholme,” the Fonterra spokesman said.

“We have an ambition to have zero net carbon emissions in manufacturing by 2050, on the way to using 100% renewable energy sources and a 30% reduction in absolute COemissions by 2030 from 2015.

“We’re on track to meet this. Moving out of coal entirely is going to take a lot longer than we would like due to our scale, the lack of economically viable alternatives and need for a reliable energy source.”

Fonterra’s Clandeboye site is believed to be the biggest burner of coal in Canterbury.

“We burn around 130,000 tonnes at Clandeboye and 9000 tonnes at Studholme.

“The average coal burn rate for Clandeboye is 22 tonnes per hour, the peak combustion rate is 25 tonnes per hour.

“This is more than we would like to use, however had we not made the changes we have through our energy efficiency work this number would be 20% higher.”

Ms Baxter and Coal Action Network Aotearoa welcomed Fonterra’s commitment but warned gas should not be used as alternative, as it had almost the same carbon footprint as coal.

“In terms of alternatives, there are large quantities of waste wood from forestry just left to rot which could be put to use on some sites.

“There’s a lot of wood waste in Canterbury. Driving from Christchurch to Timaru I have seen piles of waste, burning.”

Fonterra burns upwards of 534,000 tonnes of coal a year, according to 2015 figures.

“With this commitment to get out of coal, Fonterra has joined other members of the dairy industry,” Ms Baxter said.

Synlait has already announced it would not build another coal boiler.

Fonterra has 32 manufacturing sites across the country, and about 40% of its processing energy is from coal. The rest is from natural gas, electricity and wood.