With the need for additional electricity generation capacity in PNG, together with a strong push for renewable energy, announcements of new hydropower initiatives and solar power projects follow each other rapidly. Another renewable source of energy is biomass power, a surprisingly simple generation concept with substantial benefits, used by PNG Biomass in the Markham Valley near Lae.
After a competitive tender process, PNG Biomass signed a Power Purchase Agreement in December 2015 with PNG Power Limited to supply up to 30MW of clean renewable baseload power into the Ramu grid, in line with expected market requirements. PNG Biomass operates a renewable energy project that will use the biomass of trees that are farmed on 16,000 hectares of customary land, harvested after 5 to 8 years and processed into wood chips to provide fuel for a biomass power plant.
As early as 2010, PNG Biomass was already working together with communities and landowners in the Markham Valley, as most of the land required for tree farming is customary land. Landowner participation in the project involves more than just leasing land, landowners also draw benefits from crop share payments, carbon credits, and community business opportunities. In addition, the project will create 500 ongoing local fulltime jobs and an estimated 2,000 indirect jobs over its 25-year project life.
Today, landowners are already obtaining the benefits from land rental, as well as intercropping, where food and cash crops are planted between the rows of plantation trees. Local business group interim Chairman, Sam Mayeb, said that six main cash crops are planted during intercropping, including rice, cucumber, watermelon, taro, peanuts, cassava. “Watermelon and cucumber are the best performers and have generated significant incomes for our communities since 2014.” Intercropping offers more than just subsistence farming, it provides an opportunity for a sustainable and material source of landowner income – seized in particular by many women from local communities.
The first tree farms were established by PNG Biomass in 2012, with over 1,200ha of plantations established to date. Tree farming requires agricultural technologies and practices not readily available in PNG. PNG Biomass is therefore introducing new agricultural knowledge and technology into Morobe Province.
PNG Biomass has already introduced a laser-assisted automated seedling production system developed in Sweden using a Fibre Cell Machine and Air-Seed Sowing Machine to produce a consistent supply of high-quality seedlings. To plant these seedlings under optimal conditions, the project uses an Integrated Planting System that utilises a special planting tube. Local employees are trained in operating these technologies and understanding their agricultural benefits over more traditional practices.
The relationship of PNG Biomass with communities and landowners is rather unique, observes Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Jessie Mitir. “Of course there are the financial benefits, but our daily interaction and regular meetings have amounted to a relationship far beyond that. There is a real sense of local ownership and support for the project. We have many of them actively engage with our PNG Biomass Facebook page.”