NSW Could Face $25m Power Pole Blackhole Every Year!

At a time when cost of living pressures has never been greater, new policy could amplify the cost of electricity.

Wed 20 Mar 24


Power poles are essential to the supply and distribution of electricity in most states of Australia. We know that, with Wood Central reporting today, more than 86% of the country’s poles rely on sustainably sourced hardwoods.

Earlier this week, the NSW Minister for the Environment, Penny Sharpe, was asked questions on the subject recently at Budget Estimates for Portfolio Committee No. 7. 

By way of background, the Minister has commenced a process to establish a Great Koala National Park that will remove the main supply of wooden hardwood poles in NSW.

With native forestry ceasing in WA and Victoria on January 1st, the Tasmanian market for wooden poles does not meet the requirements for the NSW power supply.

As outlined in Wood Central’s exclusive today, the alternative is for hardwood poles to be replaced with concrete, steel, or fibreglass poles. 

You can read extracts from the transcript and view them from your point of view. 

Penny Sharpe, the Minister for the Environment, is also the Minister for Energy. The Chair of the Committee is The Hon. Sue Higginson, Greens MLC. The question comes from the Hon. Wes Fang from the National Party of NSW.

Note how often the Minister says she must take the matter on notice (This means she does not know.)

The Hon. WES FANG: Minister, how many hardwood utility poles will be needed as part of the new network infrastructure for the transition to renewable energy in New South Wales? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Good question. I don’t know. I’ll take it on notice. 

The Hon. WES FANG: Have you done any planning around how many poles you’ll need for the next 20 years? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: There will have been some. There’s obviously different types of poles. We’re also looking at non-wooden poles. There are steel poles. There’s a whole range. There’s concrete poles. Some of that work’s being undertaken. I’ll take it on notice and I’m happy to provide it to you. 

The Hon. WES FANG: I note you’ve talked about the other sorts of poles. Do you know why we use hardwood poles over some of the other poles, such as steel and concrete? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Different uses for different applications.

 The Hon. WES FANG: Minister, do you agree that there are environmental and practical benefits to using hardwood poles over those other types of poles, such as concrete, steel, softwood poles and composite poles? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert in the types of poles and how they’re best used, but I’m happy to accept on value that they’ve been chosen for a reason and there’s probably some benefits — sure. 

The Hon. WES FANG: Do you know where we source the majority of our poles in New South Wales? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes, in the State forest. 

The Hon. WES FANG: Minister, given the majority of the poles do come from the New South Wales mid-coast and are processed on the mid-coast, would you agree that the public native forestry industry is critical to the electrical supply industry and the renewable energy transition of your Government? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: First, I’d say I have taken a lot on notice in terms of the assessment of the need for poles, where they’re coming from and how they need to be used. If this is a question around the impact on pole supply as a result of the creation of the Great Koala National Park, which is what I think you’re trying to get to— 

The Hon. WES FANG: It’s very much where I’m going to, yes. 

The CHAIR: They come from plantations. 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes, fantastic. The process is currently underway around the creation of the Great Koala National Park and all of those issues are being worked through. 

The Hon. WES FANG: Have you put any safeguards in place to make sure that we continue to have a private native forestry industry in New South Wales whilst the Great Koala National Park is implemented? 

The CHAIR: Private? Public? Plantation?

 The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: I’m not quite sure where you’re trying to get to there. I’m not the forestry Minister. 

The Hon. WES FANG: You’re the environment Minister. 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes, I’m aware, and I’m very pleased to be. 

The Hon. WES FANG: Are you putting some safeguards in to make sure that your Great Koala National Park isn’t going to shut down our forestry industry? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: You should know better than most about this. The Great Koala National Park has been talked about for a long time. It’s this Government’s most significant national park that I believe we’ll create, although I do think that all national parks are important, just to be clear. It is a big area that we’re assessing. That’s why we’re doing the environmental, economic, and social assessment in relation to the impact of the creation of the park. It is why we have three different panels, including an industry panel. They’re examining all of that work. We have done two things. One is obviously create the koala hubs in the area, which is about 5 per cent of the park. The rest of the work is being assessed. That is what we’re doing and that’s the way we’re managing it, in a mature and thoughtful way. 

The Hon. WES FANG: But you would agree that the hardwood timber industry is a key stakeholder for you as the energy Minister, particularly around that issue of— 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes. It’s why I’ve met with people, it’s why I’ve been on people’s farms. It’s why there is an industry panel in relation to the Great Koala National Park. As I said, one of the things that I think is extremely important in the work that we do, particularly in the environment, is that we misunderstand a lot of stakeholders concern and their desire to be part of the solution, and we have them at the table, and that has been a priority for me, as well as having others. 

The Hon. WES FANG: Prior to the election your colleague, who was the then shadow Minister for Natural Resources, Courtney Houssos, told the timber industry: 

I note that the Victorian and Western Australian Labor Governments have announced policies to end native forest logging, and we have already seen the loss of jobs and the closure of mills as a result of this announcement. This is not NSW Labor’s policy. 

Have you sought a briefing on the use of hardwoods in, for example, the Renewable Energy portfolio, and do you agree with the now Minister, Courtney Houssos, that there is no policy around shutting down the forestry industry; that you support it? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Okay, there was a lot in that.

 The Hon. WES FANG: There is.

 The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Did you ask Minister Houssos, who’s just in a room down there? The Hon. WES FANG: I’m in here. I’m asking you, Minister. I’m here to ask you.

 The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: She’s the former shadow.

 The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Sure. That’s totally fine, I’m very happy to answer.

 The Hon. WES FANG: She spoke on behalf of your Government. 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes, and I worked extremely closely with Minister Houssos, who I’m very pleased to have as a colleague and who is a great person to work for, who is very professional and did great work as the shadow Minister in this portfolio. I’ve got no problem with that. I would just refer to my previous answer, which is we have industry at the table about the creation of the Great Koala National Park. I take on notice the planning in relation to renewable energy zones and the types of poles that we need. You would also be aware from Minister Moriarty’s estimates that there is work being undertaken on the Future of Forestry action plan that we’ll be talking about. All of that is extremely important. This Government supports a sustainable timber industry—that includes softwoods, that provides for plantations and that includes talking about what happens with hardwoods—and that is what is being undertaken. 

The Hon. WES FANG: Minister, since coming to government, have you had any conversations about examining or providing options for a possible transition out of public native forestry? 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: I’ve been asked to get out of public native forestry almost every second day since I’ve been here—thank you, Ms Higginson— 

The CHAIR: And I’ll keep asking every minute of the day. 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: —and a variety of groups. We’re constantly having to respond to those issues. You would be aware—and I’ve just indicated—that we’re talking about the future of the industry action plan, and that information will come out sooner rather than later. 

[1] Fabiano Ximenes, Carbon dynamics in native forests – a brief review, NSW Department of Primary Industries, September 2021.

[2] Fabiano Ximenes, Michael Robinson, Bruce Wright, Forests, Wood and Australia’s carbon Balance, Australian Government, Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation and Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting.

  • Wood Central has contacted Australia’s largest power pole suppliers for additional comment. Wood Central is a neutral platform and will not take an editorial stance over Australia’s native harvesting (or logging) debate. However, in the matter of public interest, it will post opinion articles and invite subject matter experts from all sides to provide contributors, who will be fact-checked before publication.


  • Jack Rodden-Green

    Jack Rodden-Green, with 30 years of experience as a forester in New South Wales, combines a deep understanding of forestry with legal training to address social and environmental issues.


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