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Byron Shire
December 6, 2021

Will our forests become the new coal?

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Forests can now be routinely burnt to generate electricity, and marketed as ‘renewable’, after a vote in the NSW government earlier this month.

The vote was on a Disallowance Motion introduced by Labor to overturn the government’s amendment allowing native forests to be logged and burnt in furnaces for electricity production.

Most whole trees can now be logged for electricity, including large old trees that are essential habitat for koalas, black cockatoos and a multitude of rare wildlife.

Even varieties of trees that are currently not logged for the woodchip industry can now be logged for electricity.

The government has done no environmental or economic viability studies on this industry, nor asked the energy industry if they want this form of power.

The governments support of this loss-making industry is irrational given it prides itself on economic management. There must be an economic review of this whole destructive industry, not a boost to its longevity. The logging industry remains perhaps the most ‘entitled’ in the state.

Emissions from burning native forest trees are more intensive than burning coal, as well as producing  toxins, such as dioxins, that are harmful to the health of nearby communities.

The government has done no risk assessment on this nor looked at the emissions compared to renewable energy.

For 20 years the government has spent millions to retain our land and water catchment’s health. This move could undo all that effort.

The latest advice delivered to the US EPA by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) which analysed biomass power plants in 25 states across the US:

The Biomass power industry portrays their facilities as ‘clean’ but they are dirty because they are markedly inefficient. Per megawatt-hour, a biomass power plant employing ‘best available control technology’ emits more nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide than a modern coal plant of the same size. Biomass power plants across the country are permitted to emit more pollution than comparable coal plants or commercial waste incinerators, even as they are subsidized by state and federal renewable energy dollars. Biomass power is given special treatment and held to lax pollution control standards, compared to fossil-fueled power plants.

It reinforces what Australian scientists said in their ‘Open Letter of Concern’ to the Federal MP Rob Oakeshott when he attempted to introduce incentives for native forest biomass burning in 2012.

There is growing community opposition to the historic over-logging and degrading of natural forests over decades.

The government has disregarded the large number of submissions and petitions opposed to this proposal in favour of the very few that were supportive.

This new attack on native forests is yet another reason we urgently need an inquiry into the entire native forest logging industry as a whole.

Lorraine Bower, Australian Forests and Climate Alliance

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