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Officials gathered at the Fonterra Stirling cheese factory in South Otago to watch via video link Energy and Resources Minister Dr Megan Woods, at Te Awamutu, give a speech and cut a cake in the shape of the Waikato plant at the same time as Taieri MP Ingrid Leary did similar honours at Stirling.
The event officially launched the Stirling plant’s plans to build its own wood-fuelled biomass boiler to replace the coal-fired system, which will be in operation by next August.
The Danone infant formula plant at nearby Clydevale was also in the process of converting to biomass. Its boiler is due to be in operation in the next few months.
Ms Leary said the switch to a more sustainable system showed "the South’s culture of being very innovative and cutting-edge", but that it flew under the radar.
"What we need is to be a bit bolder about how we tell our story so that we do attract more attention in order to get funding, and more people to take up opportunities in the agricultural sector.
"There’s nothing wrong with being louder and bolder in what we achieve."
The boiler would be bought from and installed by Austrian company Polytechnik, with conversion from coal to biomass to cost about $10million.
Half would be spent on the boiler itself and the rest on construction, Fonterra lower South Island operations general manager Richard Gray said.
The boiler would be the same type that was installed at Pan Pac at nearby Milburn, which converted its wood products operation to biomass about six years ago.
Construction would create work for 20 to 30 people, with the core operational and maintenance staff at Stirling remaining the same in the switch-over to the low-carbon option.
Conversion would make the plant Fonterra’s first 100% renewable thermal energy site, and a step closer towards the dairy co-op’s goal of getting out of coal all together by 2037.
"It signals the level of investment shown here in the long-term, and the longevity of the site in Balclutha. It’s good for the community and for the region."
It would also create an estimated 10 jobs in the wood biomass industry and the Central Otago Lakes Trust-owned Pioneer Energy would be the supplier.
The company had its own wood fuel division, which assured quality and security of local supply, Pioneer Energy chief executive Fraser Jonker said.
- Mary-Jo Tohill