A new era dawning to fire up cane plants
By JAMIE BROWN
WHEN Australian of the Year Tim Flannery called for regional Australia to fire up power plants which burn renewable fuel, he had to look no farther than Broadwater and Condong.
From next January, after five years in the planning and some delays due to soured public opinion, the two power plants costing $200 million will produce 70 megawatts of renewable power -? enough to light up half the Tweed Valley and a third of the Richmond Valley, outside peak load hours.
The plants are the largest cogeneration power plants under construction in Australia.
Sugar cane absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide when it grows as it releases when burnt, or left to rot in the paddock.
As a result this 'closed loop carbon cycle' will save equivalent emissions of 40,000 cars when compared with power created from coal or other fossil fuels.
Of more relevant interest to people living near cane paddocks, the new era of green harvesting will see an end to the spectacular cane fires during crushing season, and with it an end to 'black snow' or falling cane leaf ash.
For cane farmers the income from power should help offset poor returns when world sugar prices slump.
According to NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative CEO Greg Messiter, harvesting of green cane, with its leafy 'trash', will start next crushing season for the Broadwater mill.
This new harvesting procedure will yield a massive increase in crushed fibre (or bagasse), some of which will fire up the mill with the excess sent out to mill-owned land east of Broadwater on a purpose-built conveyor belt.
When crushing stops next January the conveyor will be reversed and stored bagasse will be transported back to the 'state-of-the-art' boiler house designed to burn biofuels.
While other fuels are being considered, such as camphor laurel, Mr Messiter said no other fuel would be needed 'at this stage'.