Wind and solar farms have been earmarked for construction across hundreds of kilometres of NSW government-owned softwood forestry land under proposed changes to the state’s energy laws.
Close to 1600 hectares of Forestry Corporation land would be made available for wind turbines and solar farms under a plan that would allow the corporation to boost its income by millions of dollars.
However, the new legislation has prompted concerns within the industry and the Labor opposition that the state government is building the revenue base of the softwood asset to boost its price in a future privatisation.
The government was set to privatise the asset – comprising 230,000 hectares of radiata pine forests – for an estimated $1 billion in 2020 but abandoned the plans after the 2019/20 bushfires destroyed about 25 per cent of the plantations.
Treasurer and Energy Minister Matt Kean said the proposed legislation, which is set to be debated in Parliament on Wednesday, would boost renewable energy generation and provide Forestry with an added revenue stream.
“Wind turbines and solar panels will be able to be built on Forestry Corp land to help it diversify its income streams and make it more sustainable in the long run,” Mr Kean told the Herald.
“We want more renewables in the system, not less.”
Trees cut down to make way for the renewable energy infrastructure would need to be replaced with two more, according to Forestry.
But opposition natural resources spokeswoman Tania Mihailuk questioned whether the legislation was designed to increase the value of Forestry ahead of a potential sale.
“While Labor absolutely supports the production of renewable energy, this move to open up 1600 hectares of the NSW timber plantation estate to the commercial energy industry begs the question, what is really going on here,” she said.
“We know that the government was preparing to sell Forestry Corp to the highest bidder back in 2019, so is this move to commercialise our timber plantations just another way of fattening the Forestry Corp pig for market?”
Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union NSW assistant secretary Alison Rudman said the timing of the legislative changes to the government-owned corporation had prompted concerns it was moving to sell the asset.
“A bigger question for us is, why is Forestry Corp getting into the energy production business given that at the end of 2019 we know that the government was looking to sell it to the private sector,” she said.
“Now is not the time to be removing anything from the forestry state before it’s ready to be put to good use.”
But Mr Kean said the changes to the way the forest land was used was not about privatisation.
“Labor is all talk and no action when it comes to climate change. This is the perfect opportunity for Labor to show support for clean energy and renewables, but instead they are standing in the way of progress because the CFMEU wants them to,” he said.
Close to 30 companies have made unsolicited approaches to Forestry Corporation to develop renewable energies, including wind farms, over the past five years.
A Forestry spokeswoman said the legislative change would be the first step in allowing it to solicit commercial interest for renewable energy proposals on its land.
“Forestry Corporation is excited at the prospect of renewable energy production from state forest pine plantations,” she said.
Ms Mihailuk also raised concerns the move would result in the harvesting of premature trees to make way for the wind and solar farms.
A proposed government amendment to the bill would prevent the premature harvesting of trees if it didn’t result in Forestry Corp failing to meet supply commitments.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding