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Fonterra puts coal on a spin cycle

27 June 2019:

We appear to have forced Fonterra into defending its coal use. They’ve got a new page on their website that’s all about coal.

Fonterra vies with Genesis (Huntly Power Station) in being Aotearoa’s second largest coal user. Fonterra’s “commitment” to the climate (enthusiastically welcomed by Climate Change Minister James Shaw) is that it won’t build any new coal-fired power stations after 2030. That’s the date at which the world has to halve its coal use, according to experts. Climate guru Dr James Hanson wants all coal use stopped by 2030. Any coal boiler built in 2030 would still be running in 2070, but the world needs to be out of coal altogether by 2050.

Synlait, on the other hand, has stated that it won’t build any new coal boilers at all. From now.Fonterra vies with Huntly power station in being New Zealand’s second-largest coal user.

In 2015, we calculated Fonterra’s coal use. Annually, then, it was at least 534,000 tonnes a year. This was a very rough estimate, as the information is difficult to find. We will take that as a guide, until we can update these figures. It would help if Fonterra provided it themselves on their page, right? They’ve even signed a confidentiality agreement with the Government to stop people finding out. Hiding something?

Every one of the projects below, and on the new coal page, has been announced with great fanfare, with media happily regurgitating Fonterra’s spin, rarely stopping to think about what the company could have done, or how big any of these moves are. So here’s a breakdown of the main points on that page.


We’re electrifying our Stirling site in Otago. By moving to electricity, coal use will be reduced by just under 10,000 tonnes per year (the equivalent weight of 122 Boeing 737 800’s).

CANA comment
Fonterra is desperate to find something big to compare this with. Oh, planes are big. The reality: at 11.3 MW, the boiler at Fonterra’s Stirling site is its smallest. In terms of a percentage of Fonterra’s coal use? The 9400 tonnes it’s saving is just 1.7%. Not nearly as impressive as jumbo jets. And the conversion, Fonterra says, will take a few years to complete.


Our Brightwater site near Nelson has switched to co-firing biomass, helping reduce CO2 emissions by 25 percent, or about the same as taking 530 cars off the road.

CANA Comment
Brightwater is home to a massive horticultural area and Fonterra’s factory is right next to a timber mill: there is so much biomass available, the company could easily access enough for a full, 100% switch to a clean boiler like the one at Burwood Hospital. Photo of burwood boiler? It’d also help clean up the air: Brightwater is Nelson’s most air-polluted area.

And the cars? New Zealand has 3.6 million cars, so the 530 is 0.014% of our car fleet. Slow clap, Fonterra. Perhaps the worst thing is that Fonterra didn’t even pay for this conversion: the taxpayer did, through an EECA grant. The taxpayer stumped up about half. Fonterra got a ton of fawning media, complete with a Ministerial visit. The inside of Burwood Hospital’s state of the art biomass boiler.


We’re trialing (sic) fuelling our Te Awamutu site with woodchips, which could reduce our carbon emissions by around 84,000 tonnes per year, or about the same as taking 18,500 cars off the road.

CANA Comment
Jeanette Fitzsimons broke this down in our blog. Yes, it’s a step forward. But it’s only a trial, right? Take home message? Fonterra’s boiler at Te Awamutu accounts for about 8% of its coal use. 92% – or another 231,250 cars’ worth of coal – to go.


We’ve given-up our mining permit at Mangatangi in the Waikato and sold nearly 50 percent of the land acquired there for coal mining (296 hectares).

CANA comment
Fonterra realised, after many protests from local Iwi and concerned citizens, that it wasn’t a good look to be an actual coal miner, especially with a mine that would have been right beside the main highway to Tauranga. On many long weekends, activists from Auckland Coal Action hung banners off bridges on that highway alerting the traffic-jammed drivers to Fonterra’s proposed mine.

In 2015 Fonterra managed to persuade then owner of the nearby Kopako coal mine, Solid Energy, to re-open it. In February that year CANA announced the end of the Mangatangi mine for Fonterra, but they were quick to deny it, saying it had only been deferred. They finally admitted it in September 2015, telling local residents it was “on hold.”Auckland Coal Action protest Fonterra’s proposed Mangatangi coal mine.

Three years later in 2018 Fonterra’s spin doctors come up with a great new announcement: “we gave up our coal mining permit”. Very forward-looking, sounds great, right? All Fonterra did was save money – it didn’t use any less coal. And saved a lot of nightmares for the image of it being a coal miner.

And in terms of its contribution to climate change from all this coal burning? Fonterra has even managed to persuade the Government to give it free allocations of carbon credits, so it doesn’t even have to pay the price of its pollution.

Enough of the spin cycle, Fonterra, let’s see some real action. Us taxpayers are sick of footing your dirty bills.


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