Australia’s Carbon Tax -Old Growth Forest Woodchips no longer considered renewable resource

A Major Win for Environmentalists who have been fighting to conserve old growth forests

One of the most telling and historic parts of the carbon price deal was a tiny announcement, barely noticed in the media coverage. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Greens announced yesterday that the carbon price package prevents native forest woodchips being counted as a renewable energy fuel.

This Greens initiative has saved Australia’s native forests from being burned as a renewable energy source, which is good news for conservation and also for the solar and wind industries.

Parliament has only just debated the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) legislation. The CFI allowed the woodchip industry to burn chips from native forests for the production of electricity and count this as renewable energy.

Native biomass generators would have been able to gain a financial subsidy in the form of Renewable Energy Certificates, which are supposed to be used by solar, wind and other genuine renewable energy technologies.

During the debate, the Opposition argued for the National Association of Forest Industries, to broaden access for electricity generation to any native forest under state or Commonwealth management arrangements.

The end of native forest biomass generation is a big boost for the Greens in Tasmania, where they are part of Government, which has been controversial. The environmental movement will be very glad, especially the Wilderness Society and local groups in other states, such as South East Region Conservation Alliance, which has been fighting the proposal to burn woodchips at the Eden mill, south of Sydney.

Here is SERCA‘s submission against the Eden biomass power station proposal.

The problem with native forest biomass is the same problem with woodchipping in the first place. It was always supposed to be based on waste but it became driver of logging. Woodchipping has been the Trojan Horse for the timber industry over the past 20 years, which drove its expansion into native forests.

Without today’s announcement by the Government and the Greens native forest biomass would have entrenched logging for decades to come, at the very time we need to be protecting them for their carbon, water and biodiversity values.

Wilderness Society national campaign director Lyndon Schneiders, captures the significance of the win:

  • This is a far-reaching reform that represents a turning point. For more than 30 years, the need to change our economy to conserve the life support mechanisms of our planet through reduced emissions, has been resisted by government and industry.
  • This package is not perfect, but it is a start. The details of the package are less important than the message these reforms send and the direction these reforms take our economy. These reforms will change the game and have confirmed that the protection of nature makes sense both environmentally and economically.

The renewables industry will benefit from this announcement, because native forest biomass companies would be able to sell large-scale generation certificates (LGCs) under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act. This would compete with legitimate solar and wind generators, lowering the price and thus the profitability of those industries.

The Clean Energy Future is the culmination of a decades long cultural reaction to the scientific discovery that we are part of nature, not merely the manager of the natural resource factory.

The same mechanistic, anti-ecological thinking that was blind to the value of native forests is still blind to the value of renewable energy. Senator Christine Milne‘s brilliant contribution to the CEF are the many details that shift the decision-making power from the Greenhouse Mafia, to the renewable energy. This is her way of pushing ecological thinking into energy policy, for the first time in Australian history.

This victory will become more decisive over the next term of the Senate, as solar PV becomes cheaper than coal-fired electricity for consumers all over Australia and indeed, the world. That is when solar, which grew 480% last year, will reach an explosive take-off point. When solar is commonplace, that will consolidate the turning away from coal which Greens senators Brown and Milne have spoken about over the past 24 hours.

From Albany to Alabama, from Sydney to Saigon, consumers will be installing solar PV, without subsidies.

The growth of consumer, cheap solar PV will continue to a point of ‘saturation’ where the grids that were built for coal power are unable to distribute and balance solar electricity. The legacy of a coal-fired conspiracy will prevent people them from taking charge of their own energy costs. This will impact on every solar owner, whether they vote Liberal, National, Labor, Greens or independent. That will be a politically-explosive situation and another tipping point in green politics.

Dan Cass is a lobbyist with over 20 years’ experience working in the environment movement, both in Australia and overseas.


About jboydedu

The Australian Centre for Sustainability Literacy is a division of Julie Boyd and Associates, who have been working for three decades to educate students in becoming positively contributing world citizens. We use a careful integration of solid research and evidence from a broad range of fields across education, community, business and leadership to support the 7th Generation concept which says that all decisions need to be made for the benefit of 7 generations forward.
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