The NSW government rejected the recommendation by the parliamentary inquiry into ‘Sustainability of energy supply and resources in New South Wales’ to stop burning native forests for electricity. However, earlier this year (17 March) Tweed Shire Council passed an amendment to exclude the purchase of renewable energy sourced from the burning of wood or waste as part of their procurement of Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs).
‘The Legislative Assembly Committee on Environment and Planning report in 2021 concluded that forest biomass is not a renewable sustainable source of energy. It recommended changing the state environmental law to prevent burning of native forests to generate energy,’ explained Greens Councillor Nola Firth.
‘Burning wood creates more carbon emissions than coal, gas or oil. It also contributes to alarming deforestation and loss of habitat and carbon storage. The Drax power station in The UK burns one freight train of wood pellets per 2.5 hours – all imported from US forest “waste” such as branches, smaller trees etc.
‘This is not only happening in Europe, In NSW near Singleton, an application has been made for clear felling of several hundred hectares with the aim of exporting wood pellets to Japan.
‘The reasoning used to justify burning wood for energy is that wood regrows so is a renewable source. This reasoning is deeply flawed because we know trees take time to grow and also that trees are disappearing from the earth at a disastrous rate- in Australia one Melbourne Cricket Ground is cleared every 86 seconds, This at a time when over a million species are at risk of extinction and loss of habitat is the main cause.’
Mayor Chris Cherry supported the amendment pointing out that ‘we do have options for wind and solar that is the better option at this time. I am happy to see this going forward to meet our target for 2022 and 2030’.
Forests important for our future
At the time that the NSW government rejected the recommendation to stop burning native forests for electricity North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh highlighted that ‘Forests improve our health, generate rainfall, cool the land, regulate streamflows, sequester and store carbon, reduce flood risk by storing water and slowing flows, reduce landslips by reinforcing soils, and support most of our biodiversity.
‘Nineteen Australian ecosystems have been identified as already in collapse. In the marine environment climate change is causing the decline of the Great Barrier Reef which once again is ravished by another mass coral bleaching event. Most of the giant kelp forests off southern Australia have already gone, and many species are moving south as the waters warm.’
‘The NSW Government’s disregard for both climate heating and koalas by dismissing the committee’s recommendations on the grounds that they think it’s fine to burn native forests as long as some sawlogs are also removed. This opens up north-east NSWs forests, one of the world’s centres of both species diversity and endemism, for woodchipping on the scale of the Eden forests, where over 90 per cent of the trees are logged for woodchips,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘This is particularly distressing as several companies are currently vying to use our native forests to replace coal for generating electricity,’ said North Coast Environment Council spokesperson Susie Russell.
Zero waste targets
Cr Firth also highlighted the fact that ‘There’s no such thing as “waste wood”. Wood is precious and small pieces can now be made into “engineered wood” products.
‘On the Tweed we have a strong targets of zero waste and recycling and zero emissions. There’s no place for wood burning as an energy source in our shire. Burning of other kinds of waste also has serious issues around toxic gases released into the air.
‘Choice of wind or solar are appropriate for our shire and we can and should choose these from our renewable energy provider.’
The only councillor to vote against the amendment was conservative councillor Warren Polglase.