What­ever its strat­egy, does Fon­terra have to use coal?

Phas­ing out burn­ing coal is the least­we­can do for our chil­dren, writes JEANETTE FITZSIMONS.

The Press - - Perspective - Jeanette Fitzsimons, for­mer Green Party co-leader, is a mem­ber of the Coal Ac­tion Net­work Aotearoa or­gan­is­ing group.

. . . coal is the worst cul­prit in cook­ing the cli­mate

Fon­terra has ap­plied for con­sents for a ten-fold ex­pan­sion of its milk pow­der fac­tory at Studholme, all of it ex­pected to burn coal.

It’s a puz­zling de­ci­sion: in­vest­ing $800 mil­lion to make a low value com­mod­ity when many farm­ers are re­duc­ing pro­duc­tion to save costs and Fon­terra is strug­gling.

Fon­terra is the third largest coal user in New Zealand, It burns over half a mil­lion tonnes of coal each year to dry milk – and that’s up 38 per cent since 2008. Now it plans another ma­jor ex­pan­sion.

This mat­ters be­cause coal is the worst cul­prit in cook­ing the cli­mate.

Phas­ing out coal where al­ter­na­tives ex­ist is the least we can do for our grand­chil­dren.

But, largely due to the fact that China’s coal use is drop­ping, coal is now dirt cheap and, in the last four years, has got much cheaper.

New Zealand’s Emis­sions Trad­ing Scheme is sup­posed to put a price on car­bon emis­sions and en­cour­age al­ter­na­tive fu­els but the tax­payer gifts Fon­terra 60 per cent of their pol­lu­tion for free and it only has to pay half of what is al­ready a very low price for the rest.

Fon­terra is very proud of hav­ing re­duced its coal use per kg milk solids. But growth in out­put is so fast it has over­whelmed these ef­fi­ciency gains and Fon­terra’s to­tal emis­sions – which are all that mat­ters to the at­mos­phere – are still grow­ing.

We should ex­pect Fon­terra, our largest com­pany, to de­velop the smartest strat­egy to make eco­nomic gains for NZ and the farm­ers— with the least en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age. In­stead, Fon­terra’s cur­rent model of more cows, grazed more in­ten­sively, with more im­ported feed, more ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter, us­ing more coal to process more milk, is not only hugely un­sus­tain­able, it is un­prof­itable for farm­ers, and for Fon­terra it­self.

A num­ber of stud­ies, such as this one, have shown that farm­ers, en­cour­aged by Fon­terra and the Gov­ern­ment, have in­creased cow num­bers be­yond the point where in­puts are cost­ing more than they get for the ex­tra milk. Each ex­tra cow is los­ing them money. And that’s not even count­ing the cost of the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age to rivers, soils and cli­mate.

There is ev­i­dence that cut­ting back on cow num­bers, feed­ing them bet­ter on grass and sav­ing the cost of in­puts like im­ported feed would make more profit for farm­ers and re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost to rivers and the cli­mate.

What­ever its strat­egy, does Fon­terra have to use coal? It says yes. But our forests are full of dam­aged logs, branches, bark, and other wood waste that is left on skid sites or burned.

There is a grow­ing wood waste in­dus­try whose play­ers will col­lect this, chip it, part dry it, and de­liver it to cus­tomers.

There are sev­eral big boil­ers in Can­ter­bury us­ing wood waste in­stead of coal, with no net cli­mate-chang­ing emis­sions, and bet­ter air qual­ity for lo­cal res­i­dents.

A new boiler can be pur­pose-de­signed for wood, so that cheaper fuel can be used. Surely a new plant like Studholme, if it is to be built at all, is the place for Fon­terra to start quit­ting coal?

Coal may be dirt cheap now, but a real price on car­bon emis­sions could change this very fast.

Has Fon­terra fac­tored this in, or do they think they are pow­er­ful enough to stop any gov­ern­ment ever set­ting a real price on car­bon?

The next ques­tion: is pow­der the most prof­itable use for milk?

The big ex­pan­sion at Fon­terra’s Eden­dale plant has fo­cused on higher value prod­ucts and de­wa­ter­ing by re­verse os­mo­sis, en­abling the plant to process 1.4 mil­lion litres more milk with­out a new coal boiler.

How much more money could Fon­terra make for its farm­ers, its share­hold­ers and the coun­try, by in­vest­ing the $800m ear­marked for pow­der at Studholme in higher value prod­ucts at its other plants?

In­stead, the peo­ple of South Can­ter­bury are be­ing asked to ac­cept more air pol­lu­tion, more traf­fic, more coal trains, ocean dis­charges – and the farm­ers of the world are asked to suf­fer more cli­mate change, droughts and floods. All to per­pet­u­ate a strat­egy that is not the most prof­itable for farm­ers, for Fon­terra, for the na­tion or for the planet.

We think Fon­terra can do bet­ter. We think Fon­terra must do bet­ter. And the time to start is now.

An artist’s im­pres­sion of Fon­terra’s pro­posed new milk dry­ers at its Studholme plant near Wai­mate.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.