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Byron Shire
October 23, 2021

Plan to burn native forests for electricity ‘sheer madness’

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Activists want the NSW Environment minister to put a stop to clear felling forests on the north coast. Photo Ta Ann Truths/flickr.com
Environmentalists have derided a plan by NSW DPI to burn harvested timber from state forests to generate electricity. Photo Ta Ann Truths/flickr.com

Chris Dobney

A controversial plan to burn harvested sections of North Coast native forests to generate so-called ‘renewable’ electricity has been widely derided by the Greens and environment groups.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) revived the plan, first mooted in 2012 following the collapse of the woodchip industry, at yesterday’s (November 22) Bioenergy2017 conference in Sydney.

DPI research scientist Fabiano Ximenes, who presented the findings, said the two-and-a-half-year project ‘analysed the production forests surrounding regional hubs Grafton, Kempsey and Bulahdelah.’

‘Untapped potential’

‘The research showed that there are… exciting opportunities in the production of biofuels and high-value chemicals, so there is significant untapped potential in NSW forests,’ he said.

According to the report, any potential impacts on the environment from the use of biomass can be ‘effectively addressed by management actions; for example, via the retention of sufficient biomass in the forest to maintain biodiversity values.’

Mr Ximenes said use of the biomass for bioenergy ‘has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emission, due to the displacement of fossil fuels’.

‘There are also additional benefits of removing the residues that would otherwise decay or burn in the forest, such as a reduction in forest management operational costs, reduced fuel loads and supporting regional development by creation of a new industry,’ he added.

Sheer madness: NEFA

But North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh has described the plan as ‘sheer madness’ and said it had more to do with seeking a replacement industry for woodchipping than cleaning up the forest floor.

‘Forests are the lungs of the earth: they take in our carbon dioxide, storing the carbon and giving us back oxygen. Left standing they are part of the solution to climate change,’ Mr Pugh said, ‘but cut down they become part of the problem.’

‘Burning forests to generate electricity doesn’t make sense, we lose the tree’s ability to take in and store carbon, and when they are burnt they release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning coal.

‘The forestry “residues” DPI are proposing to use are tree trunks (down to 10cm diameter and at least 2.5m long) with the crowns, branches, defective stems, and stumps left behind in the forest. Most of these will come from logging trees that would otherwise be retained.

‘This proposal is all about increasing logging intensity and developing a new market to replace export woodchipping as the sawlog resource is progressively cut out.

‘The reality is that logging has run down the carbon storage in vast tracts of NSW’s forest by 40-60 per cent. As logging intensity increases the carbon stored in the trees and soil, along with the forest’s structure and biodiversity, is further diminished,’ Mr Pugh said.

Driving climate change: NPA

The National Parks Association has described the proposal as ‘perverse’ and called upon Premier Berejiklian to resist the DPI’s call.

NPA senior ecologist Dr Oisín Sweeney said it was ‘hard to imagine a worse idea than this.’

‘Given what we know that biomass use overseas is driving deforestation, and the evidence that burning forests for power is driving climate change, this is reckless in the extreme,’ Dr Sweeney said.

‘Coming from a government department that has a responsibility to serve the public interest moves it from merely ill advised to downright irresponsible.

‘North Coast forests are one of just 36 global biodiversity hotspots. Koala populations are in steep decline—partly due to intensive native forest logging. Now this suggestion to burn them.

‘Survey after survey shows strong community support for genuine renewables like solar, yet this idea would have us use stone age technology,’ Dr Sweeney said.

Dead koala power: Greens

NSW North Coast Greens MLC and forests spokesperson Dawn Walker has coined the term ‘dead koala power’ in relation to the plan.

‘Koala populations are plummeting across NSW and rather than looking at serious ways to protect our precious koalas, like supporting the Great Koala National Park plan, we see outrageous proposals like this that will intensify logging in vital koala habitat across the NSW North Coast.

‘Using forests to produce energy is madness when we know it takes decades for new trees to absorb carbon, which is released when we burn timber from forests for energy.

‘Put simply, this bioenergy proposal is nothing more than a naked attempt to increase the intensity of logging operations in our precious North Coast forests and obliterate more koala habitat.

‘If this government is at all serious about addressing climate change or preventing the extinction of wild koalas in NSW, they would immediately rule-out this proposal that essentially equates to “dead koala power”,’ Ms Walker said.


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  1. If this goes ahead, anyone who refuses to buy native forest power has two options.that are not mentioned here. One is to buy 100% GreenPower that excludes native forests from its permitted power sources, with the other being to go off-grid entirely.

  2. Are they out of their minds? Oh, hang on, they don’t have minds, just empty spaces in their skulls where reason and logic should reside.

  3. once again these people who are in government never not amazing me at the ridicules proposals they make, will we ever vote someone in who can actually run the country.

  4. This isn’t some future proposal, it is already happening. Both Harwood and Condong Sugar Mills operate these ‘Co-generation Power Stations’ that were built with public funding and originally proposed to burn camphor laurel chips and green trash from ‘green harvesting’ of sugar cane.
    That didn’t last long and cane farmers are back to burning the cane in the fields again as it is cheaper, despite Queensland cane being green harvested successfully for over 30 years.
    Every 20 to 30 minutes a semi trailer cane bin load of woodchips travels down Kyogle Road, through Murwillumbah to the Condong Mill to feed the ‘renewable energy’ power station. Not sure of where they are coming from, Kyogle or further away.

  5. More and more trucks with bigger and bigger logs are going to the Broadwater Co-Generation plant. A lot of the timber is big enough to be used instead of burnt releasing the carbon. Mr Ximenes mentions decaying residue like it’s a bad thing. Doesn’t that decaying residue add nutrients back to the soil and serve as habitat? Our public native forests managed by Forestry Corporation are looking more and more like monocultures of small trees. I went for a drive a couple days ago and I couldn’t find any big trees, let alone habitat trees.

    Dawn Walker is right. If the State Government approves this, people who use the electricity will be supporting “Dead Koala Power.”

  6. Hi all – the Broadwater and Condong Power Stations are owned by Cape Byron Power. I work there and know that we do not use logs or forestry floor waste from native forestry operations as fuel. Pls go to http://www.capebyronpower.com to learn the truth. The above comments also reference Harwood but I don’t work there as it is owned by a different company, Sunshine Sugar.


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