On the outskirts of little old Darfield, just west of Christchurch, something big is happening. Construction of the world’s largest milk drying plant is underway. Have a go at the numbers: $500 million to build. Seven million litres of milk a day. 170 new jobs. And the biggie – revenue of $780 million a year from the overseas buyers. There is, of course, other numbers: To dry this much milk, you need heat – 75MW of it. This will be generated by burning 90,000 tonnes of coal each year, and pumping 150,000 tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere. Meanwhile earlier this year the Waiouru Army Base was praised by the government for fully converting its 8MWboilers to wood pellets, cutting CO2 emissions by 10,500 tonnes and boosting the wood energy industry. Accomodation for 1400 staff as well as training, workshop, catering and office facilities are now all heated with renewable bioenergy. Ash from the boilers is now a fertiliser for the gardens on the base – unlike coal ash which needs careful disposal. There were two options looked at for Darfield: coal or wood biomass. Coal: cheap, plentiful, polluting, finite. Wood: cheap, plentiful, clean, infinite. A realistic price on carbon could have made this a no-brainer, but an ineffective ETS system meant coal got the nod. The Fonterra plant is a mighty show of economic confidence and robust investment from the company behind the lion’s share of our second largest export stream. It’s a missed opportunity not to have set it up as a sustainable operation.