For decades the Australia Government has been lobbied to allow electricity generation from burning biomass to attract clean energy credits. Lobbyists promoted this as a way of disposing of waste vegetable matter as a renewable energy source, a win-win situation they explain.
Electricity generation from biomass is already occurring. Millions of tax-payers dollars have gone to businesses, such as timber and sugar mills, to establish co-generation plants, utilising heat they were already using in their manufacturing processes, to also generate electricity.
Both industries create significant amounts of waste, and are ideally placed to benefit from co-generation, a win-win situation indeed. However, while it is undoubtedly renewable energy, it is far from clean. Reports from the USA, which has a long history of wood-fired power generation, show the resultant emissions are actually worse than those from burning coal.
Conservationists in Australia have long been concerned that any up-take in biomass burning here would ultimately lead to the burning of native forest timber, to the detriment of those forests. The fact that some of the most strident supporters of biomass use are from the timber industry adds to those concerns.
The co-generation at sugar mills, originally promoted as a way of disposing unwanted bagasse and cane tops during the short crushing season, has turned more to burning wood because it is more efficient.
Initially this was promoted as a way to dispose of pest species such as Camphor Laurel. However, as feared, some sugar mills have seized the opportunity to turn themselves into full-time wood-fired power stations, and are burning wood chips which they claim is waste.
One Clarence Valley timber mill is currently applying to Council to increase its wood-chip output from 1,000 to 50,000 cubic metres annually to feed the sugar mills' furnaces. Clearly this is not waste timber, but logs that have no commercial value, hence the state government's current move to allow clear-felling in state forests, a practice that has been happening illegally for a decade or more.
If we value our unique wildlife, and amazing biodiversity, this madness has to stop.
- John Edwards