Will our forests be burnt to warm tomato crops?

This seemingly good news story could be a disaster. Energy development company HRL and two other companies are planning 60 ha of hydroponic greenhouses heated by 220,000 tonnes of wood ‘waste’. Coincidentally, it’s the same amount the government is currently trying to find a buyer for to save the ailing East Gippsland logging industry.

Artists impression of Avalon greenhouses

This new intense food production site is to be built at Avalon and would be the biggest in the world. It’s a great way to produce fresh food on a large scale in a small area all year round but we wonder what we are not being told.

Our radar alarm hit high pitch when we heard the term ‘waste’ wood. Also bring into the picture HRL’s history of advocating the use of native forest wood to burn for electricity and heat www.hrlt.com.au/waste-to-energy .

We are told this will be industrial wood waste from demolition sites across Melbourne and Geelong (we suspect). This would be gathered, transported and chipped for burning on site to produce both heat and electricity. So the proposal isn’t just for heat production but for a power generation facility of 120MWh – a fairly large biomass burner. That would be a dangerous big foot in the door for a biomass industry.

Questions: What quantities of waste wood can a city provide year round? How reliable would the supply be? How cost-efficient would it be to pick out just the timber waste from other unwanted materials like metal, fibro cement sheets, glass and so on? How would this be transported? If they plan to chip the waste wood, how do they extract all the metal fixtures, nails and screws that would damage the chipper blades?

We strongly suspect that picking through a demolition pile for timber would not be cost effective or supply enough material to heat 60 hectares of greenhouses 12 months of the year. Being at Avalon, we would hope the miles of failed MIS bluegum plantations in western Victoria would be the first choice for burning if they later announce they’ll have to seek further supplies of ‘waste’ wood.

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