Forests at a tipping point – into the furnaces

Friday, June 26, 2015

Furnace

A new war has been declared on our native forests.

The Senate, with the help of Labor has passed legislation that not only allows the liquidation of native forest trees in electricity furnaces, but defines it as ‘renewable energy’ and thereby hands the logging and power industries credits (financial support) to assist this new excuse for unfettered forest obliteration. The woodchip industry at least had preferences for species type, but anything that burns will now be fair game.

The new th-RET – a giant step backwards

After a week of fragmented debate in the Senate, after professional logging lobbyists pressured politicians every day for months, the new watered down Renewable Energy Target (RET) was adopted at about 11pm on the 23rd June 2015. There were 41 for and 14 opposed (being the Greens and four independents, Senators Day, Wang, Leyonhjelm and Lazarus). The transcript of those last hours of debate is here.

The regressive move means: forests can be incinerated as part of the RET, a reduction from 41,000 to 33,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy to supply Australia’s power needs by 2020, plus a limit on wind power’s contribution to this target. With limited renewable credits, it also means if forest furnaces can claim them, it robs the true renewables like solar and wind from claiming that assistance.

Various amendments were voted down one after the other. Greens wanted to allow states to set their own renewable energy targets but this was voted down by Labor and the Liberals. They wanted a senate enquiry, and the burning of native forests excluded as a biomass source – both were voted down. Senator Glenn Lazarus wanted any native forest wood used to only be sourced from FSC certified logging operations; again voted down.

The Labor beast

Labor and the Greens failed to scrap wood waste burning after the Abbott government did a deal with four anti-wind farm independent senators to establish an obstructive wind farm commissioner (to look into what some call wind-farm generated hypochondria). This was in return for their votes.

Labor could have made native forest burning a deal-breaker. When amendments to remove native forest burning from the target failed, Labor went ahead and voted for it anyway; so much for their weeks of opposition and hand-wringing. However, they did send a message to the market place that Labor does not support native forest wood burning in the energy mix. This should at least signal to investors that all this could change in the future under Labor and so would be a risky investment.

Logging thrown a life-line – a new waste industry

This dirty deal between Labor and the Coalition has effectively thrown a lifeline to the dying native forest logging industry. Claims that the wood fuel will just be saw logging ‘waste', 'branches' or 'offcuts' are blatant lies. Native forest saw logging (and now woodchipping) is a ‘dead man walking’. There will soon be hardly enough genuine waste to boil the billy let alone power electricity generators here and overseas. The gathering and transporting of branches and twigs is an absurd notion; only whole logs would be taken. Senators Janet Rice, Larissa Waters and Christine Milne consistently tried to draw out the acting Minister for the Environment, Senator Birmingham on many such details but he performed the Coalition’s duck and weave dance, refusing to provide any clear answers.

Here in East Gippsland, and thanks to a leaked VicForests document, we know it is uneconomic to log for sawlog alone, that only a tiny market exists for woodchips, and that the only possible saviour would be burning forests as electricity furnace fuel to keep industrial scale logging going.

Hazelwood to co-burn forests with coal

The appalling decision could see Hazelwood - already Australia’s dirtiest power station - become even dirtier. Hazelwood is one of the power stations where burning wood from our native forests has already gained a wood burning licence and can now claim it is producing ‘renewable energy’.

Shunning Science

Science shows that burning wood is far more polluting than burning coal for the electricity generated. On the contrary it shows that standing trees and forests are the most effective, long term carbon capture and storage mechanisms we have and cutting them down to burn is a double whammy against the climate. The UK experience teaches us that this type of power production is more costly as well, meaning consumers pay more. Include in the calculations: the carbon cost of heavy machinery used to log forests, the remaining unwanted forest plants burnt on site, logs trucked or shipped, logs chipped, chips dried and pelletised, then transported to the power plants to burn to create steam to drive the generators to make electricity. What a costly way to boil the kettle! There are reasons too numerous to mention as to why burning forests to generate power is an insane proposition on many counts.

At the UN Climate negotiations recently, a Working Paper showing that burning forest biomass for electricity is not carbon neutral was released by Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs. But we know our federal government is not a fan of fact or science.

Where to now?

All terms associated with ‘Clean Energy’ such as green power, renewable, carbon neutral and so on, have now been dirtied under this legislation. All renewable energy is effectively contaminated and not to be trusted under any definition. Consumers will have no confidence in the claim of ‘renewable energy’.

There is now a real opportunity for households and businesses to demand to know if their power supplier is able to categorically prove it will not be selling ‘dead koala power’ to their customers. The appalling image of native wildlife being incinerated to power a toaster in the morning has good potential for a consumer boycott campaign.

Our state governments also have the ability to ban the use of native forest wood as power station fodder if they choose to.  Whatever strategy or target is chosen there will be a stronger campaign than ever to kill off this outrageous new threat to East Gippsland’s and Australia’s forests. The RET legislation has had the effect of strongly uniting forest campaigners from across the country.

Lastly, thanks to our dedicated forest warriors

Many environment groups worked non-stop on this for weeks. EEG worked social media, sent info and details to members and supporters on how to contact cross benchers (thanks to those who made up the thousands of emails and calls they received). On behalf of the Australian Forests and Climate Alliance we gathered 40 Australian scientists who sent basic information and requested the independents to carefully consider the issue and their vote. The media release was read out in the Senate by Christine Milne. AFCA members and other groups met with Mark Butler and other ALP pollies as well as the cross benchers. In the end the Abbott Govt obviously played on the tunnel vision of the anti-wind cross-benchers and the price was biomass burning.  

Lorraine and Francis from AFCA each wrote comprehensive articles in ReNew Economy and the Independent and had a presence inside and outside parliament at the crucial time the debate started. And of course the relentless battle of speeches between the Greens senators, Labor and the pro-burners in parliament.   

More info at the below links:

http://www.eastgippsland.net.au/news/burning-forests-for-electricity

http://wild.com.au/people/opinion/australian-forests-need-your-help-today/

https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/australian-logging-and-the-end-of-species,7788

http://wild.com.au/people/opinion/ret-senate-vote-death-knell/

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