This week, Fonterra’s application to expand its milk-drying factory and burn more coal at Studholme, in South Canterbury, is being put to the test. The local council is considering the application and hearing from people who’ve asked to make submissions.
It might come as a surprise to many people that Fonterra is one of New Zealand’s biggest coal users, if not the biggest. If Genesis Energy’s coal-powered electricity plant in Huntly shuts down on schedule in 2017, Fonterra will almost certainly be burning more coal than any other organisation in the country.
Coal is the worst fossil fuel for our climate. We need to stop burning it now if we’re to keep climate change in check. In the UK, the biggest coal-burning power plant is being converted to burn wood waste instead. Wood waste is much cleaner and its impact on our climate is much less than the impact from coal.
That’s what I think should be happening in New Zealand. Fonterra is slowly moving to burn less coal and more wood waste, or “biomass”, in its milk factories. That’s great, but it really needs to move faster, not build new coal-powered boilers like the ones at Studholme.
Fonterra is our biggest company – big enough that it could probably create a market and industry for biomass in New Zealand all by itself. If Fonterra announced a date on which it promised to stop burning coal, people in the fledgling biomass industry could start seeking out investment, building their capacity, planting more trees, and planning to supply Fonterra.
Fonterra should be leading the transition to a clean-energy future, instead of dragging its heels. Fonterra says “there are no viable alternatives to coal in the South Island at present” – but if Fonterra really wants there to be a viable alternative, it should be doing more to create that change.