The Abbott Government recently succeeded in having burning of so-called ‘wood waste’ from native forests included as a source of renewable energy for electricity generation.
In 2001, the Howard Government set a mandatory Renewable Energy Target requiring electricity suppliers to source an additional two per cent, or 9500 GWh, of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In 2009, the Rudd Government increased the target to 45,000 GWh by 2020. The target has two components, 41,000 GWh from large-scale sources such as wind and large-scale solar and 4000 GWh from small-scale sources such as roof-top solar.
The target had to be reviewed every two years by the Climate Change Authority. But last year Prime Minister Tony Abbott set up a separate review headed by businessman and climate sceptic Dick Warburton. Not surprisingly, the recommendations of the Warburton review were not well supported.
What followed were protracted negotiations between the government and the Labor opposition to try to reach agreement on a revised target. The parties eventually agreed on a reduction from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh by 2020.
A controversial issue has been the question of whether wood waste from native forests should be counted as renewable energy. The Howard Government included native forest wood waste in the RET. But in 2011 a parliamentary Multi-Party Climate Change Committee agreed to remove it.
In March 2012, when the House of Representatives had passed the clean energy future legislation, Independent MP Rob Oakeshott introduced a motion to include native forest wood waste. The vote on his motion was tied and the Speaker, Peter Slipper, used his casting vote to defeat the motion.
Late December 2012, the Climate Change Authority recommended including burning native forest residues in the RET. They naively accepted the argument that if residues from harvesting operations are going to be burnt or left to rot, it would be better to burn them for electricity generation.
In June this year, the House of Representatives passed the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 to change the RET from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh. The Bill also included an amendment allowing burning of biomass from native forest.
When the Bill went to the Senate, Labor moved an amendment to remove the native forest clause. The amendment was supported by the Greens and Senator Glenn Lazarus but failed because all the other cross-bench senators voted with the government.
Tony Abbott had done a deal with the cross-bench senators to get their support. The deal involves measures aimed at reducing the use of wind energy in favour of large-scale solar. Whereas this move was led by Senator David Leyonhjelm, it clearly had the support of Tony Abbott who believes wind turbines are “visually awful” and noisy.
The Government has agreed to appoint a national wind farm commissioner to “handle complaints from concerned residents about the operations of wind turbine facilities”. They will also appoint a scientific committee to investigate the health impacts of wind turbines despite numerous reviews by medical authorities that have found no evidence for health impacts.
A leader in the push for burning native forest “residues” was Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture. The Tasmanian timber industry has been in trouble since the decline in wood chip exports. When the wood chip industry was starting up, supporters argued that no trees would be cut for chipping if they could be used for sawlogs. In other words, wood chips were just a by-product of the sawlog industry. Clearly, that was farcical and the fear is that the same will happen with electricity generation from native forests.
There is the potential to address the problem at the state level. You can help by telling the Queensland Government not to approve electricity generation from native forest ‘waste’. Email the following Ministers:
Hon Dr Steven Miles MP, Minister for Environment & Heritage Protection, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hon Leanne Donaldson MP, Minister for Agriculture & Fisheries, email@example.com
For more on this issue, have a look at “Burning Question” on ABC Background Briefing. Click here for the story.