Briefing Notes September 2001

Proposed Charcoal Plant on NSW South Coast near Batemans Bay

Conservation and community groups, together with Ian Cohen MLC, held joint meetings on 11 and 12 September 2001 with the proponents, State Forests and the proponent’s publicity agents and lobbyists, Hawker Britton.

The following points are based on their answers to our questions:-

1 The whole timber supply of 200,00 tonnes a year for the next twenty years is to come from the South Coast and adjoining Great Divide, the old Batemans Bay and Queanbeyan SF Management Areas, or in today’s jargon the South Coast Subregion of the Southern RFA Region. One third of the supply is to come from each of the north, south and west of the Subregion.

[This means even more intensive, industrial forestry and woodchipping operations from Nowra to Narooma and out to Braidwood, Captains Flat and points south, on Canberra’s doorstep. The forests to be strip mined include Monga/Buckenbowra, Tallaganda, the unprotected Badja and Deua Wilderness areas and the Clyde River Catchment.

The outcome of such operations is to turn native forests into de-facto plantations with huge damage to biodiversity and water catchments. No supply is proposed from the Tumut Subregion forests at this stage!]

2 The recently commenced poisoning operations for forest thinning on the South Coast are independent and will not supply timber for the charcoal plant.

3 The Southern RFA provides for 48, 500m3 of quota quality large sawlogs a year from the South Coast [but 6,500m3 of this does not yet exist as it depends on private land purchases and plantation establishment] as well as 3,500m3 of quota quality small sawlogs.

SF maintain that only residue timber from sawlog operations will be used. This means 200,000 tonnes a year of residue from 45,500m3 of sawlogs on top of pulp logs (ie Eden woodchip plant) of up to 90,000 tonnes a year, also supposedly sourced from saw log operations.

Written information from SF states that the weighted average over the various species is 1.13 tonnes of timber to a m3 but other SF sources say the conversion factor is .77 tonnes to a m3. [this is being checked – the higher figure appears at odds with density of desirable timbers notified in earlier charcoal proposals]

4 The residue wood wanted for charcoal is the butt (10cm above ground to about 2.5m up the trunk) and the top (just below the main branches plus any parts of the major branches with diameter > 150mm and length of at least 2m)

The tree species to be harvested as suitable for charcoal making comprise 3 basic groups that will have to be kept separate to be fed into a retort:-

a) Most preferred – denser red wood – Ironbark, Woollybutt, Bloodwood, Grey Box. b) Less preferred – Spotted Gum c) Least preferred – Blackbutt, Silvertop Ash, Stringybarks, Monkey Gum, etc.

Won’t use species not taken for sawlogs eg Angophora Costata, Peppermints, etc.

Mature wood is preferred [ie larger, older trees with greater habitat and food resource value for wildlife]

Logs will be debarked in the forest and carted to the charcoal plant. They will be cut into plate sized rounds about 100mm thick by a sawmill on site, and stockpiled to dry for about 12 months.

Logging operations will probably be mechanical harvesting and grapple snigging [ie the old story of bulldozers and high impact, low employment operations]. Trucks probably the same as now but maybe more of them.

The company will pay State Forests who will then pay logging contractors, hauliers, etc up to delivery at plant.

Log trucks will each carry 25-28 tonnes depending on the truck type, tree species, etc. The company hopes to get more on a charcoal truck but bulk and light weight will probably limit this. May use containers. Will transport charcoal up Kings Hwy probably to Queanbeyan and use rail to Lithgow – still looking at this. Log trucks – about a third will use some part of Kings Hwy.

5 The company plans to release its Environmental Impact Study on the charcoal plant site operations in late October and will proceed with construction as soon as approvals are given by the State Government.

6 Finance by the banks for the silicon smelter depends on these approvals and the consequent secure 20 year contract with SF for timber supply. Compensation will be payable if further reserves are declared leading to supply reduction [sounds familiar!]

7 There will be no EIS for the wood supply. SF is relying on the ‘best science’ of the RFA [ but the regional environmental assessment for the RFA did not deal with pulpwood supply let alone a future charcoal plant proposal!]

8 Charcoal production at the plant will be 30,000 to 35,000 tonnes of charcoal per annum

9 The planning approval given in late 2000 for the Silicon Plant at Lithgow requires that more than 50% of the timber supply for the smelter’s charcoal will come from outside NSW, however, the company is in negotiations with the NSW Government to waive this condition.

10 The company is still negotiating with Victoria for timber supply from East Gippsland forests [they are keeping their options open but the economics of distance and power infrastructure costs seems to make Victoria an outside chance].

11 The charcoal plant retorts will operate 24 hrs/day but dispatch/delivery/sawmill will probably only go 5 and a half or 6 days a week.

12 The charcoal plant stack emissions are mainly moisture, CO2, NOx. No particulates or smoke. Volatile organic compounds are re-circulated in the gas through the retort. Tars and volatiles act as binders, strengthen the charcoal lumps for transport.

Charcoal fines are collected in closed hoppers. No market for them as yet.

13 Council is keen to have sewage effluent used by the plant but this will depend on its quality and the EIS on how to get it to the site. Could use town supply. Not a lot needed (did not know volumes) will be used in closed system, re-circulated and just topped up.

Noel Plumb

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