Logging for electricity attacked as 'sheer madness'

A proposal by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to increase logging intensity in north-east NSW forests in order to provide up to one million tonnes of trees each year to generate electricity has been described as “sheer madness” .

A report by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) found more than one million tonnes of forestry residues from harvesting operations could be used for bioenergy, with "no adverse environmental impacts".

DPI Research Scientist Fabiano Ximenes, who presented the report's findings at the recent Bioenergy2017 conference in Sydney, said the two-and-a-half-year project analysed the production forests surrounding regional hubs Grafton, Kempsey and Bulahdelah.

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

However, spokesperson for the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA), Dailan Pugh, said that burning forests to generate electricity made no sense.

"We lose the trees' ability to take in and store carbon, and when they are burnt they release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning coal," he said.

The forestry "residues" that 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," Mr Pugh said. "The reality is that logging has run down the carbon storage in vast tracts of NSW's forest by 40-60%. As logging intensity increases the carbon stored in the trees and soil, along with the forest's structure and biodiversity, is further diminished. "We are facing a climate emergency. Burning forests for electricity is sheer madness. "If we want to address the climate chaos caused by rising atmospheric carbon we need to quickly move to obtaining our energy from non-polluting sources, such as wind and solar, while restoring the ability of our forests to take-up and store increasing volumes of carbon as they age. "We need to stop logging of public native forests not increase it" Mr. Pugh said.

The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) has also criticised the proposal, warning that biomass has been assessed as driving climate change as it ‘emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels’.

NPA Senior Ecologist, Dr Oisín Sweeney said: “It’s 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.

“Coming from a Government Department that has a responsibility to serve the public interest moves it from merely ill advised to downright irresponsible," he said.

A 2017 review by Chatham House concluded that since "woody biomass is less energy dense than fossil fuels, and contains higher quantities of moisture and less hydrogen, at the point of combustion burning wood for energy usually emits more greenhouse gases per unit of energy produced than fossil fuels.

“Overall, while some instances of biomass energy use may result in lower lifecycle emissions than fossil fuels, in most circumstances, comparing technologies of similar ages, the use of woody biomass for energy will release higher levels of emissions than coal and considerably higher levels than gas".

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