Alpine Energy will trial 10 environmentally-friendly transformers at Fonterra's plant video

JOHN BISSET/STUFF

Alpine Energy CEO Andrew Tombs shows off the company's new vegetable oil transformers, which will be installed at Fonterra's Clandeboye plant.

The bright-green boxes at Alpine Energy's premises in Washdyke might seem a little out of place, but they could transform energy in South Canterbury, the company says.

Alpine Energy's 10 new, environmentally-friendly transformers, which will be installed at Fonterra's Clandeboye plant, use vegetable oil as an insulating medium rather than traditional mineral oil.

They are the first of their kind to be used in South Canterbury. 

Alpine Energy chief executive Andrew Tombs, front, poses with the new vegetable-oil transformers, with representatives ...
JOHN BISSET

Alpine Energy chief executive Andrew Tombs, front, poses with the new vegetable-oil transformers, with representatives from Aurecon and Apex Environmental.

While the transformers cost between 10 and 15 per cent more than mineral oil-based transformers, they are more environmentally-friendly and reduce the risk of fire, since vegetable oil has a higher ignition temperature. 

Alpine Energy chief executive Andrew Tombs said the transformers had been painted bright green in order to distinguish them from the mineral oil transformers, so the two types of oils were not mixed. 

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Network delivery manager John Dillon said Alpine was increasing Fonterra's power supply when Fonterra and Aurecon engineers requested the environmentally-friendly transformers. 

If the trial was successful, all of Alpine Energy's mineral oil transformers would potentially be replaced by vegetable oil ones. 

Tombs said the transformers were made by ETEL Transformers Ltd, an Auckland company, and he made a special request for bright green.

"I don't think they've had a request quite like that before." 

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Alpine had ordered the transformers, and Fonterra would then purchase them off the power company. 

Dillon said the opportunity to use a product that uses biodegradable oil was appealing to Alpine, which was continually looking at more environmentally sustainable options.

"One of the advantages of using a vegetable oil transformer is the higher ignition point making it a very hard product to burn. Another advantage is reduced environmental impact in the rare event of a leak to soil or water."

Tombs said the company was focusing on collecting any oil that leaked from mineral oil transformers, via a bunding. 

The theory behind the transformers suggested they would be at least as successful, if not more, than the mineral oil transformers. 

"It's certainly something which has been considered over time," Tombs said. 

The cost of the transformers to Fonterra was commercially sensitive, but Tombs said individually the transformers cost in the region of $100,000 each. 

Four transformers were shown to representatives from EnviroNet and Aurecon on Wednesday morning, with six more on the way. 

Each transformer has about 1230 litres of vegetable oil, and has a longer life expectancy than the traditional units, with Tombs saying the transformers could last for "years and years and years". 

The vegetable oil was less hazardous to those handling it, and had a zero per cent mortality effect on aquatic life.

"We would like to extend the use through attrition." 

Fonterra has contributed to the capital outlay of the transformers which will be installed later this year.

"The drive is looking to have environmentally-sustainable assets in the field." 

 - The Timaru Herald

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