Jeanette Fitzsimons writes…

Well, actually CANA doesn’t care whether Fonterra uses wood or not. If it finds a way to dry milk with moonbeams, that’s fine by us. What it mustn’t do is keep using coal, let alone expanding it, or expand its gas use.

We’ve been promoting waste wood from forestry because that is abundant, it’s renewable as long as forests are replanted, the technology to burn it is mature, it is found around the country, and we have the local expertise. So, ever helpful, we are getting alongside Fonterra and trying to find a good alternative for them. But the bottom line is, coal must go, and so must gas soon after.

Outside its Edendale dairy factory in Southland, Fonterra gets a clear message.

Outside its Edendale dairy factory in Southland, Fonterra gets a clear message.

Our campaign is having an effect – faster than we expected.

After hearing our evidence (well, our witness Peter Fraser’s evidence) at the Studholme consent hearing that prices are not going to rise enough to make new or expanded dairy farms profitable, and so there will be no milk for the proposed plant to dry, Fonterra has half accepted our argument and dropped one of their two proposed driers. That’s 270,000 new cows they were sure a few weeks ago they had to provide for, which they now agree are not going to materialise. So where is their evidence that the other 270,000 will?

On wood, after previously offering a range of excuses as to why it wasn’t feasible, they now say they agree with us – there has to be a transition away from coal and they are exploring the use of wood. (They have actually been doing this for several years with no obvious progress.)

They propose to start their transition away from coal by building a huge new mainly coal-fired milk dryer. (What? Yes, you read this right.) But it will be capable of burning up to 20% wood in the fuel mix. Their reason for not going to 100% wood? They say there is not enough wood available, but have produced no analysis or figures to back this up. However they believed at the hearing that there is enough to provide 20% of the fuel for the plant as initially conceived.

Right, that’s 20% of 60 tonnes per hour used by the two boilers. But now they plan only one 30 tonne per hour boiler, so the available wood could supply 40% of the heat, right? Well, they don’t seem to have thought of that. They are still saying 20% of just the one boiler. Half the wood that they thought was available has dematerialised, just like the cows.

Then there is the “up to”. They have admitted that “up to 20%” could mean zero, at least some of the time. Coal is still their preferred fuel but they are making an effort for PR reasons. They have been pretty clear that price is their guide. The mix of wood and coal will change from day to day depending on cost and availability.

So there is no commitment to wood at all, except when it might suit them. But to achieve this PR stunt they have to build a less than optimum boiler. Our expert on wood combustion told the hearing that you can design a boiler to work well on any fuel, including a mix of coal and wood, as long as that mix is consistent. If you change the mix the boiler is designed for, it will not work efficiently or cleanly. This seems to be what Fonterra intends.

Fonterra even argued that its planned boiler and “up to” 20 percent biomass was part of “transitioning out of coal.” Well, you don’t transition out of coal by building a brand new coal-fired plant.

Let us set out again what a transition strategy would really look like:

  1. Accept that farmers are discovering that intensification has not been profitable, especially at low prices, and are culling cows; stop all plans to expand milk drying, focussing instead on adding more value to the milk they do have.
  2. Start replacing smaller, old boilers (they have several that date from the 1970s and 80s in the 10MW range) with 100% high efficiency dedicated wood boilers.
  3. As they gain experience and build their supply chain, gradually replace larger ones with 100% wood (or the new electric technologies which are looming) as they need major repairs or maintenance.
  4. Forget the idea they may be considering that moving to gas will get us off their back. Gas is a fossil fuel with carbon emissions about 40% less than coal at the point of combustion, but methane releases from gas production have increased since fracking became common and can even undo this advantage. Forget it, and go clean.

Federated Farmers’ response to Fonterra’s plans, even with one boiler, was perfect, with Federated Farmers dairy chairman Andrew Hoggard telling the Timaru Herald that it was like “the Death Star of the milk power industry”.

Death Star 15

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.