Stirling announces get out of coal goal

The Fonterra Stirling cheese plant will be coal-free and using wood biomass to fire the site by...
The Fonterra Stirling cheese plant will be coal-free and using wood biomass to fire the site by August next year. PHOTO: FONTERRA
Coal-free and fired by wood biomass by August next year; that is what the future holds for the Fonterra Stirling cheese plant.

It will be Fonterra’s first 100% renewable thermal energy site — a significant step towards the dairy co-operative’s goal of getting out of coal completely by 2037, Fonterra general manager of operations for the lower South Island Richard Gray said.

By switching the South Otago plant to wood biomass, the site’s annual emissions would reduce by 18,500 tonnes of CO2; the equivalent of taking more than 7000 cars off the road, in a ‘‘huge decarbonisation milestone for the co-op’’.

‘‘As well as the site being coal free there are additional environmental benefits the new boiler will bring, including reduction in wastewater, noise, solid waste to landfill and air discharge emissions,’’ he said.

A year ago, Fonterra announced that using electricity to replace coal at the cheese manufacturing site near Balclutha, as first proposed three years ago, would be unviable and that wood biomass would be used instead. Going to a biomass system would be a renewable energy source and required fewer changes to existing infrastructure.

‘‘There are also economic benefits for the community — the installation will contribute more than $10million into the region, along with supporting an estimated 10 jobs in the wood biomass industry.’’

The Stirling site exported to more than 10 countries, including Japan and South Korea, and Fonterra was looking forward to sharing this news with them, he said.

The wood biomass would be sourced from Pioneer Energy which was locally owned by the Cromwell-based Central Lakes Trust. The trust distributes grants to charitable causes in the Central Otago region.

‘‘Pioneer Energy is very proud to be involved with, and to support, Fonterra’s move across from coal to biomass at their facility in Stirling,’’ Pioneer Energy chief executive Fraser Jonker said.

Pioneer Energy had a proven record for the installation of new, and conversion of existing, boilers to biomass. With its own wood fuel division along with security of local supply for the fuel, had mitigated any perceived risk of making this very important transition to a low carbon future, he said.

Stirling was the third significant fuel-switching project the co-op had undertaken in as many years.

The recent Fonterra Te Awamutu switch to wood pellets had resulted in a 10% reduction in the co-op’s coal use, and at Brightwater at the top of the South Island, the team was co-firing wood biomass.

When combined, the three projects would reduce emissions by 135,000 tonnes, the equivalent of taking close to 52,000 cars off the road.

With this latest announcement, eight out of Fonterra’s 29 sites remain to be removed from using coal.

- By Mary-Jo Tohill

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