ABC Ballarat - Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 20 March, 2012
Federal Independent MP Rob Oakeshott's bid to introduce an amendment allowing wastes from forestry to be used in biomass projects lead to a House vote locked at 70-70 before the Speaker added his vote to reject the move. Ballarat-based board member for the World Bioenergy Association Andrew Lang says this is a colossal lost opportunity and that the bioenergy industry has been 'hijacked' as Australia move towards a carbon-taxed economy.
A defeat by the narrowest of margins in the Federal Parliament for a vote to allow biomass projects to be fuelled by forest waste is being declared a victory for 'scare campaigners and fundamentalists' by one of Australia's pre-eminent advocates for biomass energy production.
"It's just a really unfortunate thing, that this has hijacked the debate about bioenergy more broadly.
"The biomass or the harvest residues or the timber industry processing residues that are involved in native forestry are always going to be a very small part of the total available biomass that goes into producing baseload energy, whether it's from straw or municipal waste or plantation harvest waste - it's a distraction in the whole debate and unfortunately it's held up the entire debate," says Ballarat-based campaigner for bioenergy and board member for the World Bioenergy Association, Andrew Lang.
Bioenergy projects are essentially renewable energy projects using power derived from biological sources, but one particular method involves burning organic products in an incinerator to generate electricity - straw, greenwaste, sugarcane, and the cause of the tensions with Green groups in Australia - forest waste.
Rob Oakeshott's proposal allowed for forest wastes to be eligible for carbon credits when used in biomass projects.
Speaking as he introduced the Amendment to Parliament last night, Rob Oakeshott expressed surprise that the ALP would ignore the advice of its newest Senator when considering the possibilities of bioenergy projects to generate clean energy:
"It is therefore a surprise that today the Labor Party is choosing to ignore new Senator Bob Carr on the issue of renewable energy and to make it harder for biomass, as a genuine renewable source, to be a contributor to the climate change challenge of our time. Over the last month there has been a war of scientists - views have been cited both for and against this disallowance motion.
"But today the chairman of the Centre of Excellence for Climate Change, Woodland and Forest Health has come out publicly and said that the position I am taking should be supported. If Senator Bob Carr is not good enough, what about the chairman of the Centre of Excellence for Climate Change, Woodland and Forest Health? Why would we deny his voice and why would we deny the centre of excellence in developing best policy?"
Andrew Lang reaffirms that the issue of forest waste being used in biomass has been characterised as 'burning forests' when the truth is it is about using the litter and waste left over by forestry operations.
"The Greens and allied groups have made it out to be a very alarmist agenda that the native forestry industry might have.
"But generally speaking, in most cases that I am aware of, where it's suitable, the harvest residue is burned on site - if we were in countires like northern Europe or North America, where it's economically possible that harvest waste, or the harvest residue - the woody part of it, not the leaves or bark - would be taken off and chipped and turned into energy for local schools or hospitals or prisons...
"It's just a matter of how you use this material, do you leave it to rot on site or do you utilise it to offset use of fossil fuels?"
Mr Lang has been advocating and planning for a biomass energy generator facility in Ballarat - does this he see this rejection by the Australian Parliament as destroying any chances of developing a local bioemergy industry, with applications for local energy production?
"It doesn't rule out the rest of the industry but it puts a different mindset into the heads of the politicians, and possibly the public and some areas of the media.
"Some people think bioemergy is bad when the only thing they hear of it is this vilification of it by green groups - when in reality bioenergy is three quarters of our energy anyway in one way or another," he says.
Andrew Lang says the effects by policy inaction are easily seen around regional Australia - farmers burning their stubble, forestry companies burning the waste left over by felling operations - but the focus has been unfairly shifted onto native forest logging operations.
"We're trying to push the use of plantation harvest waste and we're trying to push the use of straw but all around us the countryside is going up in smoke because of the want of any other policies; and the whole concentration on native forest harvest residue and the residue from every sawmill that might mill native forest logs being able to be eligible for renewable energy cresdits is a complete distraction in the whole thing.
"If it's managed right, if it's regulated right at the State level, not a single extra tree would be felled if that legislation had gone through - if native forestry biomass had been joined in with all other forms of biomass as eligible."