The Bellingen Environment Centre is calling for a halt to the biomass fuel trial being conducted in Tarkeeth State Forest.
Residue from logging the forest southeast of Bellingen is being sold to Cape Byron Power, which has two 30 MW biomass-fired power stations on the North Coast, at Broadwater and Condong.
According to Cape Byron Power’s website, the two power stations together “form one of the largest renewable base load generators in Australia”.
The electricity they produce comes predominantly “from sugar cane milling waste, along with certain types of wood residues and energy crops”. They supply the National Electricity Market and also provide electricity and steam for the processing of sugar cane.
The BEC says the operation at Tarkeeth is unsustainable, pointing to erosion issues and the need to preserve and restore habitat trees given last season’s bushfires.
“Tarkeeth is a recovering native forest 60 years old, and sits on steep slopes of fragile soils between the Bellingen and the Kalang Rivers, where fresh water meets salt water,” spokesperson Caroline Joseph said.
“Part of the process of harvesting for biofuels includes dragging tree roots from the ground, woodchipping onsite and trucking it to Broadwater Mill. The resulting extreme erosion caused through this brutal process is a disgrace and anyone can see the tragic outcomes to the health of our rivers and estuary.”
Forestry Corporation of NSW confirmed that they are carrying out a trial to transform logging by-products into biomass fuel instead of burning it, but said tree roots were not being excavated.
“Tree roots and stumps are not removed from the forest, only crowns and branches and other products that we normally stack into rows and burn in the forest after the operation,” a Forestry spokesperson said.
Forestry also disputed the BEC’s categorisation of Tarkeeth as “a recovering native forest”.
“The timber plantations in Tarkeeth State Forest are not native forests. They are plantations that were specifically planted on previously-cleared farmland during the 1960 and 70s for timber production.
“Forestry Corporation has been progressively harvesting mature timber plantations within Tarkeeth State Forest and replanting the entire plantation area with the next generation of seedlings over the past few years.”
However, the BEC maintains that Tarkeeth State Forest should be restored, not logged.
“The term ‘plantation’ cannot retain the same values as prior to the 2019/20 fires in which more than three billion native animals died, yet no government is willing to address the outcomes of the bushfires with proper policy and restoration planning at a community level,” Caroline Joseph said.
“Consumers must weigh up the real costs of this biofuel experiment at Tarkeeth, planned for a broadscale national rollout with a fake ‘Green Renewable’ tag – the massive losses to our forests, and the further risk to the remaining native forest ‘plantations’ which form 36 per cent of the Bellingen Shire.”
Forestry insists the primary product coming out of Tarkeeth State Forest is “quality timber needed by the community, especially in the post-fire rebuilding effort”.
“In direct response to recent fires, Forestry Corporation moved the majority of hardwood timber harvesting operations to timber plantations, which are specifically grown for timber production, which has reduced operations in native forests.”