15 March, 2012

400 years in the making, felled by bid to be green

The Australian, March 15, 2012 12:00AM

TREES more than 400 years old that grow to 90m and measure 2m across could be fed to the furnace to generate electricity as a result of independent MP Rob Oakeshott's plan to extend renewable energy subsidies to native forests.

The Karri trees -- Western Australia's tallest and among the world's tallest -- are already classified as forest waste and turned into woodchips for a market that no longer wants them. For anyone who doubts it, examples of the trees are stacked up at the Diamond chip mill in Manjimup in Western Australia's southwest.

Forest campaigner Jess Beckerling said carbon dating had shown that 430-year old trees were being sold as firewood for as little as $9 a tone.  "There is no economic rationality in it," Ms Beckerling said.

Manjimup is a reflection of was is happening in state forestry nationally as the industry has moved increasingly to plantation timer and the export market for woodchips has collapsed.

Mr Oakeshott's proposal to provide a subsidy for burning forest "waste" is considered a potential lifeline for foresters and a new flashpoint for environmentalists around the nation.

Long-standing plans for a bio-energy plant in Western Australia's southwest have struggled to get off the ground. The plant has approval to burn residue from plantation timber. But the location for National Power's proposed 45 megawatt power station has been shifted to the Diamond mill site away from blue gum plantations in state forest operations.

Mr Oakeshott said his motion would not result in additional logging and rely only on residues now burnt in the field. But environment groups fear extending the renewable energy certificate scheme to include electricity generated from forest waste would be a repeat of the export woodchip experience of the 1970s. It would radically change the economics of producing electricity from the forest and accelerate the clear felling, they claim.

Granting valuable renewable energy certificates for electricity generated from state forests was specifically excluded from the federal government's clean energy legislation. But Mr Oakeshott has lodged a disallowance motion to this specific clause in the legislation. If the disallowance motion is not challenged in federal parliament before March 21, the clause will cease to apply and forest timber will automatically qualify for renewable-energy subsidies.

Mr Oakeshott has the support of the bio-energy industry, which says a biomass plant would get its main supply from plantation forestry and urban woody biomass and that any native forestry biomass used would be minor.

Environment groups reject claims that only waste left behind would be burnt because the legislation is not specific. "Residue is whole logs," Ms Beckerling said. "The idea that they are somehow going to feed a furnace from mill waste is completely ridiculous."

Neil Bartholomaeus, a former head of Work Safe Western Australia, said he had seen it all before.

He is a marron farmer, trout fisherman, long-time resident and forest campaigner. "You end up with the situation where, effectively, the tail - the residue being burnt for biomass fuel - would be wagging the dog," he said.

Manjimup Shire president Wade DeCampo supports Mr Oakeshott's disallowance motion.

Local businesses are concerned a bio-energy furnace would threaten the clean food image of an area that produces twice as much as the Ord River scheme.


forestry investment said...

How stupid is that?! To try to make renewable energy by destroying old growth trees? Someone needs a brain transplant.

forestry investment said...

How stupid is that?! To try to make renewable energy by destroying old growth trees? Someone needs a brain transplant.