Talking Point: Burning forests for electricity makes no sense whatsoever

THEY call it “dead koala power” in NSW, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation say it is highly unlikely to meet their sustainability criteria for investment citing terrible impacts overseas affecting biodiversity, and even the president of the Institute of Foresters admits burning wood for electricity emits carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Welcome to the forest furnace that the Hodgman Government and the native forest logging industry want to foist on Tasmania. It’s the complete opposite of a clean, green, clever development and is now clutching at the straw offered by Tasmania’s short-term energy woes. src=

Hopes for a wood-fired power station based on native forest biomass are the push-back designed to replace woodchip exports.

Biomass burning is planned to underpin maintenance and expansion of native forest logging for many years into the future, including the 400,000ha of forest previously promised for future reserves under the Tasmanian Forests Agreement that are available for industrial logging in 2020.

Just as woodchipping was described as simply cleaning up waste in the forests despite woodchip volumes at times comprising 90 per cent or more of logged material coming out of those forests, biomass feedstock is also claimed to be mere “residue” by proponents of this dirty, destructive power source.

While income from woodchip exports kept Gunns going until their overseas markets collapsed, Forestry Tasmania accumulated losses. There was an entrenched pattern of cross-subsidisation from the public purse.

For native forest biomass burning, direct public subsidisation is key to making it economic and propping up industrial logging of our native forests.

Last year the Australian Government controversially included native forest biomass into the renewable energy target, opening up access to money via the generation of renewable energy certificates.

Already Tasmania is offering to subsidise “residue solutions” so this can be added to the assistance flowing from decisions in Canberra.

The thumbs down from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will no doubt disappoint advocates looking for yet more sources of government largesse.

The climate impacts are horrendous, yet advocates claim forest biomass burning is carbon neutral. The fact is that burning large volumes of wood emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, often greater per unit of energy produced than from burning coal.

That carbon will not be soaked up again by regrowing the forest for many decades at best, and for Tasmania’s most carbon dense forests it would be counted in centuries.

Yet the time frame in which we must make a difference to turn around climate change is within the next decade or two, and we should be reducing our emissions, not breaking even.

The erroneous notion of carbon neutrality also arises from a misunderstanding of international carbon accounting rules.

To avoid double-counting, biomass burning is accounted as neutral in the energy sector on the assumption the emissions will be captured under the land use and forestry sector.

Flaws in forestry accounting globally then create loopholes that mean that in many cases these very real emissions never make it on the books.

Don’t believe former Tasmanian resources minister Paul Harriss and the forest industry claims that green groups support biomass burning in Europe.

Last week 120 non-government organisations and networks launched a declaration calling on the European Union to exclude large-scale biomass burning from their renewable energy directive because such industrial bioenergy is not renewable and is having devastating impacts on people, forests and climate.

Peg Putt is chief executive of Markets For Change and has been acting as expert adviser on forests and climate to a consortium of international environmental groups.

The idea this is appropriate or workable in Tasmania’s immediate energy crisis is laughable. No such facility could be built and operating by April, which is when the crunch could come, but then loggers never do seem to let the facts get in the way.

Spurious arguments are being made to spruik this environmentally appalling proposal.

The collapse of the export woodchip trade a few years ago opened up the opportunity to back off the clearfell destruction of magnificent forests in Tasmania.

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