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Court’s Redbank ruling is a reprieve for native forests, but threat remains

Verdant Energy’s plans to use wood to fuel Redbank power station have hit a hurdle after a Land and Environment Court ruling that requires the company to submit a new development application.  

The Land and Environment Court on Friday ruled that changing the fuel used at Redbank from coal to wood was not permissible under the existing approval.   

The decision is a significant setback for Verdant, which must now prepare a new development application and environmental impact assessment.  

Conservation groups are concerned about the impacts that burning a million tonnes of wood every year, as Verdant proposes,  will have on forests, biodiversity, air quality and climate.   

They are also concerned about the impact that tens of thousands more heavy truck movements every year will have on local roads and public amenity.   

Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said: “The court’s decision is very welcome but this project still poses a very live threat to native forests and wildlife.  

“It takes decades to grow trees and centuries to grow forests but only seconds to burn them. This proposal will destroy forests and fast-track the extinction of forest species.   

“Biomass from native forest timber has no social license in NSW, and never will. The community campaign against this proposal will be relentless — we will not rest until this proposal is withdrawn.”     

North Coast Environment Council spokesperson Susie Russell said: “The community is calling out for genuine action on climate change. That means genuinely reducing emissions and drawing down CO2. Replacing coal with wood would actually increase  the emissions of CO2, while also reducing the capacity of the forests to absorb emissions.   

“It is now up to the NSW and Commonwealth Governments to make the regulatory changes to prohibit native forest wood being classed as a renewable energy source, and thus remove the perverse incentive introduced by Tony Abbott, that called burning trees 'green'.”   

North East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh said: “In this climate emergency, cutting down the trees we urgently need to capture and store our carbon emissions, and burning them to release their stored carbon, is sheer madness. 

“We need our forests now more than ever to remove carbon from the atmosphere and many of our most imperiled wildlife, such as Koalas, will not survive the massive increases in clearing and clearfelling that will be required to replace coal by burning their homes”      

Shaunti Kiehl of Biomass Action Group said: “BAG just did a submission to the EPA outlining the fact that their air pollution regulations are not stringent enough to cover the extremes of biomass contamination.  

“This is just one example of the extreme irresponsibility and complete disregard to duty of care by the government in subsidising this dirty industry.  

“It’s unbelievable that in 2022, an advanced civilisation is still burning trees for electricity like we still live in caves.” 

Dave Burgess of Redbank Action Group said: “We welcome the Court's decision, however this isn't over by a long shot.  

“Verdant has made noises about exporting woodchips to Japan if it didn't get it's power station.  

“The NSW Government needs to make it very clear that burning forests for power is not the way forward for the state and nor is the reestablishment of a dinosaur industry that is long gone from Newcastle.”   

Background  

Last year, more than 30 organisations signed an open letter condemning the plan to restart and convert Redbank power station to run on biomass.    

The Nature Conservation Council, North East Forest Alliance and the Australian Forest and Climate Alliance gave evidence during the court proceedings. 

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