North Queensland’s sugar industry has fired up the turbines to bolster Queensland’s reduced power supplies in the wake of the Callide Power Station explosion.

Wilmar Sugar are no strangers when it comes to generating electricity; the company’s mills are self-sufficient and produce about 620,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year from bagasse.

In response to the fire at the power station near Biloela last Tuesday, a Wilmar Sugar spokesperson said they decided to generate electricity on the limited bagasse available at this time of year to supply power to the grid.

“We extended our pre-season steam trials at Victoria Mill in Ingham by six hours last Wednesday, and are preparing for steam trials at Pioneer Mill in the Burdekin in the coming days,” a spokesperson said.

“We plan to continue generating and exporting electricity at Pioneer Mill until the start of crushing next Tuesday, June 8.

“We plan to start up the boilers again at Victoria Mill on June 10 and co-generate for five days ahead of the Herbert region’s anticipated start of crush. This will also enable us to do further factory commissioning before the Herbert season starts on June 15.”

Australia’s renewable energy sector has experienced significant growth in recent years, however Wilmar remains the country’s largest producer of renewable energy from biomass.

“Our eight mills burn bagasse – the fibrous material that remains after sugar cane is crushed – to create heat and steam for factory operations,” the spokesperson said.

“As well as being self-sufficient, each year we export enough excess electricity to the grid to power 80,000 homes for 12 months.

“The bulk of this power is exported during the crushing season, which runs from June to November.”

Australian Sugar Milling Council economics, policy and trade director David Rynne said as a leading producer of clean and abundant sugar power, the industry could accelerate Queensland’s energy transition.

“The Queensland sugar milling sector produces over 4 million tonnes of sugar each year, but what many people don’t know is that it is a significant electricity producer,” Mr Rynne said.

“Queensland’s 19 sugar mills produce around 1 million megawatt hours of electricity annually from 438 megawatts of installed generation capacity of which over half is exported into the National Electricity Market to power thousands of homes.”

Mr Rynne said that sugar power was ‘dispatchable and synchronous’, meaning it made the NEM more reliable and secure.

“Co-generation from bagasse offsets the risks of power supply associated with intermittent solar and wind renewable supply as well as unforeseen supply issues such as what we’ve just witnessed at Callide,” Mr Rynne said.

Mr Rynne said greater government support could maximise the potential of biopower plants co-located at sugar mills and help the state government to achieve its 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.