The NSW Eden woodchip mill exports over a million tonnes of woodchips every year. East Gippsland’s forests account for almost half of this. The declining export woodchip industry is now transitioning – from rendering our forests into tiny chips to make pulp and paper products, to now making tiny fuel pellets to power furnaces.
In mid June, the Nippon owned export woodchip plant at Eden (South East Fibre Exports) was given the OK by the Bega Valley Council to build and operate a plant to make wood pellets from native forest logs. These pellets can be burnt locally (which was SEFE’s next plan on the drawing board) or/and export them to countries which burn wood pellets to generate electricity.
The Nippon plant is leading the charge to introduce this new shift in forest exploitation. And the Bega Shire voted 7 to 2 in favour of it. It is expected that this will only succeed with massive subsidies – as the woodchip industry has weaselled out of governments for the past 40 years.
The argument that burning wood is renewable and saves burning coal is spurious. It has been estimated that there can be four times more carbon pollution produced per unit of electricity than a coal fired plant produced.
This is definitely the next great threat to our forests across Australia.
UPDATE: Despite the recent government move to reject burning native forests for power, the Eden woodchip plant is still promising to set up its planned forest furnace, but claims it will only burn plantation wood waste. This is hardly a reassurance – especially as they operate away from the public eye and have ready access to both native and plantation wood at their site.