Feb 13, 2012

Oakeshott, Windsor biomass burner scheme Pythonesque

Substituting native forest biomass for another renewable generation source is particularly problematic because of the nature of the technology, writes Andrew Macintosh, associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy.

Imagine a climate policy plan that was incapable of lowering emissions but could increase them, that resulted in no net gain in the amount of renewable electricity generation, and that cost Australian taxpayers millions each year. While this might sound like it is from a Monty Python skit, it is the effect of a plan put forward last week by independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, which will allow biomass burners using native forest wood waste to generate Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) under the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) scheme.

The standard justification for this idea is that native forest wood waste projects lower greenhouse gas emissions by displacing more carbon-intensive forms of electricity generation. Due to this, the native forestry industry claims it should be able to access RECs as a means of subsidising the activity.

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21 thoughts on “Oakeshott, Windsor biomass burner scheme Pythonesque

  1. [email protected]

    Both MPs should be made to read the novel Solar – it puts their proposal in its true perspective.

  2. Modus Ponens

    Scandalous. First step wrong Windsor has taken. Wonder if anyone is lobbying the Speaker? Might have the casting vote.

    If any energy retailer buys RECs from burnt native forests – no doubt the public campaign against them will be fierce.

    Buyer beware.

  3. Rupert Crowe

    My understanding is that these projects will be creating energy out of waste wood that would otherwise be burned in the open air anyway. If this is the case, as it is for a planned biomass plant in our part of SW WA, then there is a saving in carbon emissions; one fire instead of two. In addition, it is understood that the forest fuel will be replaced by regrowth whereas the fossil fuel will not.

  4. Modus Ponens

    Rupert – it would drive a market for native forest destruction – just when they are all running out of ways to make money from it.

    Industries can still use native forest biomass if they want, but RECs add a financial incentive that frankly shouldn’t be there (not a fledgling industry and not renewable when clear felling occurs).

    The native forest market doesn’t need correction – it needs a cold dose of market rationalism. Then governments would stop needlessly pouring money into it to keep it from dying its natural death….

  5. Jackol

    There are definitely environmental issues to do with using any material from native forests.

    However, the major points of the article are completely wrong. The fact that a capped system means that any savings in one form will offset non-savings in other forms is not, in itself, an argument that a particular form of renewable energy (in this case using forestry waste to fuel biomass power generation) is not a “saving”. The same argument applies to wind, solar, tidal, all renewable energy generation.

    If it is a renewable energy source (and it is), then why should it be treated any differently (setting aside the incredibly convoluted issue of land use accounting in carbon credit schemes, which is a separate problem entirely)?

    I’m not, personally, a great fan of a native forest biomass generator proposal due to the fact I think the management of collection of “waste” is a very sensitive environmental issue, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a discussion about it, and it doesn’t mean that biomass doesn’t deserve to be treated as a potential renewable energy resource.

    To sum up, the plan can’t lower emissions but could increase them

    To sum up, Andrew Macintosh doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about.

  6. claudedwalker

    Good article. Adding more uncertainty to an already ineffective scheme is sure to render it completely useless.

    Sucks for all the real renewable energy projects wind/solar/geothermal/wave waiting on the sidelines until the LREC certificates are valuable enough.

    So as of 2012 we will be chopping down native trees to burn them for renewable energy and growing them again for Carbon offsets… But we will have just displaced renewables with burnt biomass and replaced big trees in native forests with little trees in sparse plantations.

    Pythonesque, exactly

  7. Stephen

    Compare with the equally loony Eden wood-pellet plant for generating electricity.

    Although this one was struck down by NSW Land and Environment Court last December, you can guarantee that the shire and the proponents will keep on moving the goalposts, until they get their way.

  8. AR

    Rupert/Modus – waayyy back in ancient history, the use of “forest waste” was the original justification for wood chipping. Very quickly that tail began to wag the dog.
    I actually heard some dingbat from the Tas forest rapists recently demanding that the Feds help find new markets for the almost dead woodchip export industry.
    It might have been a nightmare but no rent seeking would be too stoopid these daze.

  9. Kincuri

    Good article Andrew.

    The proposed regulation reversal from Oakeshott only acts to incentivize the destruction of native forests, and ruins the integrity of the renewable energy target to do it. This is the distortion of democracy that money and influence can have in our nations politics.

    The argument that these projects are using waste wood, and will be burnt anyway is a moot point, the fact is that the harvesting projects will already have factored the earnings from LGCs into the viability of their projects (hence why they would have lobbied Oakeshott so strongly)

  10. Sherman Brad

    There is likely to be a real difference, in climate terms, from biomass burning compared to burning coal. Biomass is typically less than a couple of hundred years old and is sourced from above ground and in the upper layers of soil. This region has been roughly in balance with the atmosphere over the past several hundred thousand years. It took many many millions of years to convert CO2 to oil and coal. Burning fossil fuels unquestionably adds CO2 to the atmosphere and ocean (in fact, fossil fuel combustion on its own more than accounts for the measured change in atmospheric CO2, I believe). I suspect burning biomass accelerates the cycle of CO2->plant matter->combustion-> CO2 and can, if executed correctly, contribute less net CO2 per unit energy produced. Obviously, you can’t burn it faster than it grows.

    That said, burning native forests is a really bad idea in my view. There are far more appropriate forms of biomass and we owe it to our native fauna and our descendants to try to preserve what little of it is left. And we must consider all the other aspects of air pollution that come from combustion before we commit to that direction.

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