The recent sale of the cogeneration plants attached to the Condong and Broadwater sugar mills, together with changes to state government regulations, has sparked concerns native forest could be sourced for the co-generation plants.
So concerned are the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) about the prospect that they have written to the mills’ new owners, pleading with them not to resort to the practice.
Currently timber waste from sawmills, plantation timber and timber waste, together with camphor laurel and the sugarcane residue ‘bagasse’, can be used to generate electricity at the mills.
But with the collapse of the woodchip market after Boral’s loss of its FSC status earlier this year, and with state government changes to 2009 legislation protecting forests from being burnt for power, NEFA fears the plan could again be on the drawing board.
Earlier this week, Total Environment Centre (TEC) director Jeff Angel wrote in Echonetdaily that TEC was contacting all retailers requesting they cancel any existing or planned power purchase agreements with bioenergy plants in NSW that would enable the burning of native vegetation (excluding plantation) materials for electricity generation.
Now NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh has written to the new owners of the two co-gen plants, Swiss company Capital Dynamics, to seek assurances they won’t use forest product.
‘The NSW government is now proposing to amend the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009 to remove the previous Labor government’s prohibition on burning native forests for electricity,’ Dailan Pugh wrote to the company yesterday.
‘It appears that this retrograde proposal was formulated specifically to allow native forests from this region to be burnt in the Condong and Broadwater furnaces,’ he added.
‘On July 12, the north coast Nationals members, Don Page (Ballina), Thomas George (Lismore), Geoff Provest (Tweed) and Chris Gulaptis (Clarence), welcomed this proposal for your cogeneration plants at Broadwater and Condong, stating that they had lobbied for it.’
‘When the Condong and Broadwater co-generation plants were commissioned in 2008 no environmental impact statements were prepared on the grounds that they were going to be under 30 megawatts and primarily use sugarcane waste with some sawmill waste and camphor laurels. To date the plants have only operated during the cane season though we note your intent is to run them all year.
‘If the Condong and Broadwater cogeneration plants operated full time they would consume some 800,000 tonnes of biomass each year.
‘To put this into perspective, 20,000 tonnes of trees were removed from public forests north from Coffs Harbour for woodchips in 2010, and volumes have since declined. It would require a massive increase in logging intensity and clearing to even partially satisfy the desires of these power plants for high volumes of cheap wood.
‘Protecting native forests is part of the solution to global warming,’ Mr Pugh wrote.
‘There is nothing green, renewable or sustainable about destroying our primary carbon storehouses.’